BREWSTER – Brewster High School softball coach Rick Miller announced he’s trading in his Cushman dirt mover for an old Ford 4100 tractor after steering the Bears’ team for 32 years.
Word of the popular coach moving on circulated last month after Miller, 58, sent a resignation letter in November to athletic director Greg Austin.
“It was time to move on and do something different,” said Miller. “I’m not leaving it (Brewster softball) in a bad place. I think it will be OK.”
Miller enjoyed playing basketball – he was a natural at 6-4 – and competing in track (triple, long and high jumps, and javelin) before graduating from Grandview High School in 1978.
But what he really enjoyed was playing fastpitch with his father, Richard.
“I give credit to my dad on some things,” said Miller. “He was an old fastpitch pitcher in the old Upper Valley League that played in Cle Elum. My roots started in fastpitch in 1965 when I was the batboy for my dad’s team. I was the batboy until 1973, when I turned 13.
“You couldn’t play until you were a teenager. I got to play one year of fastpitch with my dad that summer.”
His dad was the junior high principal and his mother, Joan, “was a business teacher just like me.”
Miller got a bachelor’s degree in 1983 and a master’s in 1988 from Central Washington University.
He was driving a lift truck for cherries through apples at SnoKist in Grandview when he interviewed for teaching positions at Snohomish on a Thursday and with Brewster on a Friday.
He saw immediately Snohomish was a huge school, with thousands at its football games.
The smaller of the two, Brewster, offered him a position over the weekend.
“I hemmed and hawed on it on it a little bit,” said Miller. “I thought I would go to Brewster for a year and move on to something better. There was nothing better. This has been a great place. It was the right place to raise our family. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The Millers – mom is Cindy - raised three children in the Brewster system – Sara, Caitlin and Logan. The girls, who now live in the Spokane area, played for their dad. Logan is deceased.
The couple will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary in March.
In his letter to Austin, Miller listed his assistant coaches.
“Each of them (assistants) gave the program something a little different, which made the team better - Carol Paslay, Linda Robinson, Patricia Shelton, JD Smith, Tracy Flugel, Jeremy Vandelac, Genea Flynn, Mike Webster, Tiffany Gilden, Jeff Harmier, Jesus Sanchez, Jessie Hammons, and Bill Vallance,” said Miller in the letter.
“Many thanks to them for giving up their personal time to make our kids better players and members of the community. Lastly, to my wife, Cindy, who supported me in every way — you’re the best.”
“It is almost stunning to think of Brewster softball without Rick Miller,” said past assistant Pat Shelton. “He has put so much effort into every aspect of softball for so long that it is like he was just an automatic part of the program - the driving force.
“Rick took pride in everything from the field (on which) the team practiced and played games, to the uniforms and equipment for the players. And of course to the skills and abilities that the players had/developed.”
Brewster started slowpitch softball in 1986 under coach Randy Taylor, who went 8-13.
Miller took over the program the next year, going 6-15 before going 12-8 in 1988, winning the league and district championships, and participating in Brewster’s first state tournament.
Brewster reached the semifinals twice - 1994 and 2003 - and finished fourth in 1998 and 2016.
“I do not have the past records, but 32 years as a head coach at the same school would have to be a Brewster coaching record and right up there with longevity at the state level as well,” said Austin.
Miller’s record is 472-291 with 13 league championships, 10 district titles and 16 trips to state.
“The kids have been incredible throughout the years,” said Miller. “We have our share of league and district titles, and although we were never able to win the big one, we gave it our best effort. The academic state championship the players achieved in 2008 was one of my proudest moments.”
Miller has watched the sport start as slowpitch and move to fastpitch, with players getting better and better each year.
“I was really excited to transition into fastpitch back in the 1990s,” said Miller. “It took a better level of player. Not everybody can hit the fastpitch. It took a lot more training and you worked a lot harder. There’s a lot more strategy (including stealing and choosing pitches). There’s a big learning curve for all of us coaches, too.”
Miller, who has a collection of past teams’ pictures on his classroom walls, says he sees a former player every once in a while. That includes many who are now teachers, secretaries or paraprofessionals in the Brewster district.
“I plan to go back and compile who played for me,” he said.
He noted that a team typically has 15 players, each with a different personality that requires a different approach for each.
“We were able to achieve almost everything we wanted to do with the field and, I think, had the best playing surface in north central Washington,” said Miller in his letter. “I believe the core of the softball team is solid for next year. The equipment and field inventory are top of the line.
“Thank you for all the opportunities and support you have given to me and our program through the years,” Miller concluded in his letter to Austin. “It’s time to head home after work and sit on the tractor.”
“Rick has put in many years here at Brewster to build a solid softball program that is very competitive year in and year out,” said Austin. “He has prided himself for having a facility that is one of the best in the area. You could always see him out on the tractor dragging the field.”
“He took an area of land and created a ballpark for softball, making the playing surfaces better every year,” Shelton said. “Making sure that for every game the infield was groomed properly - he did that himself - and that the outfield grass was mowed and ready for the games.”
The Millers have a 10-acre ranch near Malott for their horses and goats, which grandchildren enjoy.
“We have four, four-and-a-half acres in pasture for the horses and hay to supply ourselves,” said Miller. “I like driving around on the tractor. It’s like going in circles on the softball fields. It’s kind of therapeutic.”
Although gone from the diamond, Miller plans to continue teaching for a few more years.
He was on the Brewster volunteer fire department for the 2014 Carlton Complex fire. After moving to Malott, he joined its volunteer department.
“I want to thank him for his dedication to the sport, the ladies he coached that came through his program, his commitment to being successful and the pride he wore on his shirt that he was a Brewster Bear,” said Austin. “It will be very hard to replace Rick.”
Several people associated with the program reached out to let Miller know how much he meant in their lives:
“I remember Rick always expecting and looking for the best in us,” said Jessica Garcia, who played slowpitch in 1992-1995. “Playing for him during the slowpitch era, our team made it to the state tournament three out of the four years I played.
“In that time, there were girls with abilities that ranged from complete novice to naturally gifted, but he always demanded effort. I was fortunate enough to also have my daughter, Marlisa Garcia, play for him for all four years of her high school career.
“The highlight definitely being a fourth-place finish at state in 2016,” said Garcia, who is a bilingual coordinator in the Brewster district. “Our school program will miss him for sure!”
“Every freshmen class would come in with most players not sure if they were ready for varsity,” said Shelton. “By the end of the season, they would have developed into integral parts of the team. Players would stay with the program throughout high school. All of a sudden, they would be facing their senior last game and be saddened that they would no longer a part of Rick's teams.
“Many would come back and watch practices when they were home from college for a visit but to also try to catch a piece of yesteryear when they were players for the team,” Shelton said.
“I have never seen anyone more committed to anything than Rick Miller was to the softball program at Brewster. I hope that whoever becomes the coach will have some of that great passion for the game in the entirety that Rick had.”
“Rick was always a constant and positive influence in our lives,” said Nicole Robinson, who played in 1987-91 for Miller. “He had high expectations for us as well as himself, while still having fun! He helped us think for ourselves and learn from our mistakes.
“I have always been thankful for having him for a coach and am very glad he is stepping back, for himself and Cindy.”
“I unfortunately was not a player. but my daughter Vanessa Terrones played from eighth grade through her senior year,” said Rebecca Terrones. “I have been his student, a co-worker and a parent.”
The younger Terrones went to state as an eighth-grader. She plays intramural softball at Eastern Washington University, where she is a junior.
“I could almost write a book on all the amazing things Mr. Miller did for our family and community,” said Rebecca Terrones.
“Coach Miller was a very tough coach,” said Jenny Piechalski. “During the summer of 1995 Coach Miller took the time to help me learn to switch from slowpitch softball to fastpitch. This is something that he did not have to do. But he wanted me to succeed and have the experience of college fastpitch. Thank you coach Miller for being a great teacher, coach and mentor.”
Piechalski, known as Jenny Swezey in school, played a year of softball at Yakima Valley Community College.
Added after story was published::
“I have known Mr. Miller for quite some time,” said Christina Talavera, who played softball 2005-2009 along with Miller’s youngest daughter, Caitlin. “Caitlin and I went to school together since elementary. For as long as I can remember, Mr. Miller was always coaching something. I had the pleasure of being coached by him from AAU to high school softball.
“He later became one of my high school multimedia teachers. Mr. Miller taught us so many useful skills from on and off the field, that I still use today. For that I am grateful.”
Talavera currently is a high school secretary.
“Since I started working at the high school, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Mr. Miller a little bit more,” Talavera said. “There is never a dull moment when he visits us in the office. Especially, when he sneaks in to steal candy! As coworkers we have developed a great relationship that I never imagined we would ever have. I truly see him as a great role model of hard work, discipline and responsibility. Thank you, Mr. Miller, for being a great coach, teacher, coworker, and now life-long friend! It’s sad knowing you will not be coaching anymore, but it is also great knowing you will get to relax and enjoy more time with your family and friends!”