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Mills parlays 'chip' into pitching payday

July 26, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

Adam Mills isn't built like every other pitcher in baseball.

Oh, he has his pet pitches and a comfortable style that makes him effective. But the Clear Spring native has one modification that separates him from most pitchers.

It's a huge chip on his shoulder.

In many circles, a chip is considered to be a detriment. But Mills uses his to his advantage. It keeps his head level and his vision focused and always looking to the future.

"I like having it there," Mills said via telephone from Lowell. "It helps me when I have to be my best. I don't like to have things handed to me."

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Mills has yet to be handed anything when it comes to his baseball career. In fact, almost everything he has to date has come through his own creation. Check the inventory list.

He worked his way through the Clear Spring baseball system to earn a Division I ride to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

He went from a spot pitcher in the bullpen of the 49ers' staff, to their fifth starter, to their top pitcher by his senior year. He finished 2007 with a 14-2 record and helped lead UNCC to the Columbia, S.C., regional of the NCAA Tournament.

Mills became one of the outstanding pitchers in the country, earning a spot as one of three finalists for the Roger Clemens Award - the college version of the Cy Young Award. He was up for the honor along with Vanderbilt's David Price, who was the top pick in this year's amateur draft and ultimately won the honor.

Finally, Mills was selected in the sixth round by the Boston Red Sox and is presently pitching under careful watch for the Lowell (Mass.) Spinners of the New York-Penn League, a Single-A Rookie League.

When the chips were down, Mills never left the one on his shoulder behind.

"I just hoped to have the talent to be a Division I pitcher," Mills said. "I was always the guy who everyone said, 'Mills had a pretty good year, but let's see what he does next season.' I was always scrapping to do what I can ... to get better.

"I work hard to get somewhere and then I start working hard to get to the next level."

The pick by the Red Sox was the ultimate in a season of extraordinary events for Mills in his senior year at UNCC.

"It was a total surprise how fast things moved," Mills said. "You want to go out and have a good season every year, but it's hard to explain how everything. It went so well. I don't know if it was another year of maturity or what. I can't honestly say. Those little bleeders of a year ago were now popups."

It had to do with maturity, a little luck and Mills' bulldog approach to his pitching. That came from his ability to believe he could do more than others thought he could.

"If I had to put one thing on it, it would be the fourth year of experience as a college pitcher," Mills said. "Last year, when I gave up a hit, it would bother me. This year, I would tell myself, 'OK. He got lucky.' and not let it bother me.

"Staying all four years in college helped me. Talent-wise, without a doubt, I'm a lot better pitcher now than I was a year ago."

The 6-foot, 190-pound right-hander excelled in his senior year, leading the nation with a 1.01 ERA, tying for the lead with his 14 wins and finishing sixth with 141 strikeouts.

It translated to his being named Atlantic 10 pitcher of the year as well as a slew of All-American honors. He was selected as a semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace and Dick Howser player of the year awards and as a Clemens award finalist.

"I was going into the season saying I wanted to have a winning season, do what I needed to do for the team and what I needed for me personally to get the best draft position possible," Mills said. "To have things work out the way they did, I couldn't have foreseen it. I had no idea, but I'm glad it happened. I went in and didn't want to have any excuses for not reaching for what I wanted."

In most cases, being a sixth-round pick and signing a contract with the Red Sox would have been the icing on the cake. The Clemens experience earlier this month was the cherry on top.

"It was a crazy experience," Mills said of his time in Houston. "I'm not one to say I'm just happy to be here. I went up to speak and it came to me. I said, 'This is one of the greatest experiences I ever had. Here I am sitting with David Price on one side, who is one of the greatest individuals I have ever met, and Roger Clemens, who is going to be a Hall of Famer, on the other side. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be in a situation like this.'"

Now, Mills is in the Red Sox organization where Clemens started his career. He finds himself in a strange position as a starter who doesn't start because he has been placed on limitations.

"I've been pitching piggyback (a second starter scheduled to pitch in a game)," Mills said. "I do all the work of a starter and get ready and focus on pitching that every fifth day, but I'm not starting games. The Red Sox want to limit my innings. They don't want me to go over 200 for the year."

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