ISU-Illini baseball 2

Illinois State's Owen Miller is congratulated by teammate Joe Aeilts as Miller crosses home plate after hitting a solo home run in a game against Illinois this spring at Duffy Bass Field in Normal. Miller hit for the cycle twice in a three-game span last week with the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League.

The Northwoods League, a 20-team developmental league for college baseball players, has been around for 23 years. A player has hit for the cycle — a single, double, triple and home run in the same game — 11 times.

Only last week did the total reach double figures. That was Owen Miller’s doing.

Illinois State’s star shortstop hit for the cycle July 3 in his second game since joining the Lakeshore Chinooks. On July 5, Miller did it again, giving him two cycles in three games. No one in Northwoods League history, or major league history, has had two that close together.

“Both of them came down to where I needed the triple (in his final at bat) and each time I hit it in the perfect spot in the right-center field gap over the center fielder’s head,” Miller said. “Both of them were awesome. But I have to say the second one was pretty special. It was a moment I’ll never forget.”

Miller was 5-for-5 in each game, the first a 16-8 road win at Kalamazoo, Mich. Cycle No. 2 came at Lakeshore’s home park in Mequon, Wis., about a 20-minute drive from Miller’s hometown of Fredonia, with family and friends in the stands.

The visiting Rockford Rivets included three of his Illinois State teammates: pitcher Jeff Barton, third baseman Ryan Hutchinson and center fielder John Rave.

“I’m good friends with all of those guys,” said Miller, who will be a junior at ISU. “It was pretty cool to do it against them.”

The cycles were the first for Miller at any level. No one in Northwoods League history has had more than one. The MLB record for closest cycles is seven days, accomplished by John Reilly in September 1883 (yes, 1883). The modern day mark is 12 days by Aaron Hill in June 2012.

Before you say it, allow me: The Northwoods League is a long way from the major leagues.

Still, two cycles in three games is heady stuff in any league.

Paul DeJong was impressed. The former ISU star and St. Louis Cardinals rookie took time out from his own historic week to reach out to Miller. The two never played together at ISU, but have met.

“He texted me the other night after I hit for the cycle the second time,” Miller said. “It’s pretty cool to say I’m texting with him and having a conversation with a guy in the big leagues.”

Later in the week it was Miller’s turn to extend congratulations. Over the weekend, DeJong became the first Cardinal in the modern era with seven extra-base hits in a three-game series, torching the New York Mets for four doubles and three home runs.

In 36 games with the Cardinals, DeJong’s .313 batting average includes nine homers, 20 RBI and 17 runs scored. Miller called him “a really good guy,” and DeJong’s impact is good news for Miller.

So is the emergence of pitcher Brock Stewart, another former Redbird who has performed well over the past two seasons in stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“It definitely helps,” Miller said. “Scouts say, ‘These guys are from Illinois State. Let’s take a look at some of the good guys on the team there now.’ That’s the highest level you can get to and it’s cool seeing those guys have the success they’re having.”

Miller has positioned himself to be on the draft radar. He has led ISU in batting average, hits, doubles, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage each of his first two seasons.

A Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2016, Miller was a second-team all-Missouri Valley Conference selection this past season.

He began this summer on a temporary contract with the Harwich (Mass.) Mariners of the Cape Cod League, but after his release rejoined the Chinooks, with whom he played last summer.

The 6-foot, 186-pound Miller entered Tuesday night’s home game with a .486 batting average and a .865 slugging percentage, with eight of his 18 hits for extra bases.

The numbers are impressive, but …

“In baseball you just try to live in the present and not look ahead or not look in the past,” Miller said. “You can do well and then the next week you can be struggling.

“You never try to put pressure on yourself. Next year will be a big year for me, but as far as thinking about pressure, I don’t worry too much about that. I just try to be myself.”

Two cycles in three games … why be anyone else?

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports Editor for The Pantagraph.

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