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August 13, 2013 at 7:15 AM

Mariners shortstop Brad Miller working to do things “the right way”

Future Mariners shortstop Brad Miller poses with his favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr., at a baseball camp in Orlando, Fla. in 1998. Photo courtesy of the Miller family.

Future Mariners shortstop Brad Miller poses with his favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr., at a baseball camp in Orlando, Fla. in 1998. Photo courtesy of the Miller family.

While many of you were watching Ken Griffey Jr. get inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame this past weekend, I had a chance to go to Orlando, Fla., just a few miles from Griffey’s home, to do a story on another player, Mariners shortstop Brad Miller. As some of you know, Miller grew up not far from Griffey, played on a Little League team called the Mariners and generally adopted Seattle as his favorite team.

But there’s plenty more to Miller than just that.

Miller played his summer ball for Chet Lemon’s Juice, an AAU team run by the former Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox all-star. Chet Lemon is now 58 and has battled a blood disease for 23 years that’s left him near death on a couple of occasions. But he uses medication to contain it and has devoted his life to coaching young ballplayers — with a difference.

Lemon vows to teach them to play the game “the right way” regardless of their statistics.

The Mariners were Brad Miller's favorite team as a child and also the name of his Little League squad in Orlando, Fla. Here is Miller at age 11. Photo courtesy of the Miller family.

The Mariners were Brad Miller’s favorite team as a child and also the name of his Little League squad in Orlando, Fla. Here is Miller at age 11. Photo courtesy of the Miller family.

His “Juice” teams are a perenial force in amateur baseball in Florida and around the nation. Lemon and his wife, Gigi, have also built a $6-million sports complex — The Big House — in Tavares, Fla., which opened its doors to a national volleyball tournament in January and to the public just last week. The project has been 15 years in the making, with its share of zoning disputes, site location issues, wrangling with construction companies over costs and all the other woes that big projects entail.

But it’s up-and-running on the ground floor level, with two additional floors being planned. The top floor will contain a major league sized infield and indoor batting cages for the “Juice” players and their alumni to train.

Some “Juice” alumni you may have heard of besides Miller?

Prince FielderRickey and Jemile Weeks and Casey Kotchman, to name a few.

 

Chet Lemon's new $6-million sports complex, The Big House, has 162,000 square feet of space on three levels. The first level is partially completed.

Chet Lemon’s new $6-million sports complex, The Big House, has 162,000 square feet of space on three levels. The first level is partially completed.

As Miller says in the story, Lemon teaching him the real way to play the game was the biggest baseball influence of his life. Hopefully, the story helps show a side of Miller that wasn’t all that known before. It was also nice to catch up with World Series winner Lemon and find out what he’s been up to all these years.

Former MLB all-star Chet Lemon discusses one of his favorite players, Mariners shortstop Brad Miller, in the office of his new sports complex in Tavares, Fla.

Former MLB all-star Chet Lemon discusses one of his favorite players, Mariners shortstop Brad Miller, in the office of his new sports complex in Tavares, Fla.

The day I met with Lemon, he had additional meetings that day with construction companies to discuss the future phases of his project. If they get completed, it should be a very interesting venue indeed. He’s already got one gym with 12 volleyball courts and three basketball courts, using the latest suspension netting that lifts mechanically to the ceiling so you can swap out the basketball and volleyball courts in a matter of minutes.

Alongside some indoor courts, there are suites for visiting tournament teams to use. Players can order up food by phone in the suites and have it made-to-order in on-site kitchens. They’ll have flat screen TVs inside where they can watch other tournament action via in-house webcasting.

There’s also a planned nail salon, laundry press room, car detailing port, smoothie bar and all kinds of additional extra stuff. He says he took “the best of the best” from facilities seen around the country during his travels. If the project is completed, he hopes to use it for a multitude of AAU tourneys in different sports, as well as a community center of sorts.

 

 

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