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Miller sold us the Suns

January 24, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

Bob Miller always was and always will be remembered as a salesman.

He could sell sand to an Arab and his camel. And water to an island castaway. And even acorns to a squirrel.

His finest accomplishment might have been selling the idea of minor league baseball to a skeptical Hagerstown community.

Miller, who spent 13 seasons as general manager of the Hagerstown Suns, died Thursday at age 69 after a long illness. He will be buried today at 10 a.m. at Rest Haven Cemetery after a celebration at St. Ann Catholic Church.

His passing silenced one of the area's biggest advocates for local and Maryland sports, all the way up to the pro level.

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Bob had a style all his own. He was gregarious and fun-loving while being a fan and an entrepreneur. He made you feel like a lifelong friend from the moment he met you. He made you want to buy whatever was on his table.

For most of his life, he dealt in cars. But for what seemed like a quick blink of an eye, he was the business and promotional force behind the Hagerstown Suns. It was his true passion.

"Let's put it this way. When I wake up in the morning, I've got a smile on my face," said Miller in a 1989 story about his job with the Suns. "I don't think there are too many people in the world that have a smile on their face when they get ready to go to work.

"I love people and I like to promote."

And when Miller was at the top of his game, he was like a maestro conducting an orchestra. All the notes seemed to fall into place.

Miller was able to follow his lifelong passion for baseball to start what became his second career with the Suns. He showed up and did the public address announcing for the home games at Municipal Stadium after his car salesman shifts.

From there, he became the Suns' general manager in 1982, taking over for Dan Overstreet at age 34. Miller made such an impact when he took over, he was named the Class A Baseball Executive of the Year by Sporting News that same year.

In essence, the Suns became a hometown staple and are probably still here today much because of the work that Miller and his band of friends and employees did in those first years.

The Suns were on everyone's lips. Miller's "Mauraders" increased advertising sales for stadium billboards and program pages over the years.

He flooded local businesses with free tickets, just to get fans to come to the game. The idea was that if people came once and had fun, they would spend money and come back again.

Miller prided himself on making sure the Suns had the amenities that made the game fun. His biggest boast was the team offered the best and most inexpensive food of any team in the Carolina, and later the South Atlantic, Leagues.

The salesmanship was part of the job, but it was an offshoot of Miller's love for sports and, even more so, the love of people.

Miller lived nearly his entire adult life in Hagerstown, outside of his stint in the service. He was proud to be a North Hagerstown graduate who played through the area's youth systems, including American Little League. He stayed on to coach kids and softball teams along the way.

His bigger passion was Hagerstown professional baseball. He grew up as a staunch follower of this town's Owls and Packets. He loved the Baltimore Orioles, Colts and Bullets and was a rabid member of the old Colts Corrals. In his later years, he regained those feelings for the Baltimore Ravens and their fan clubs.

But when it came down to it, his true love was baseball and that finished a close fourth to his wife Annie, his children and his loyalty to friends.

Bob left the Suns organization in 1994, mostly because his body couldn't take the pounding anymore. In his tenure, he shepherded and sold the Suns through four ownership groups, three leagues, four league presidents, two Major League affiliations and 12 managers.

And now with his passing, that enthusiastic voice has been silenced.

Bob Miller was a star in his profession when the game of minor league baseball was pure. He didn't have to come up with gimmicks to get people to come to the yard.

He was able to promote baseball with baseball.

Like Bob Miller, that concept has become a dying breed.

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