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A Character Guy Strike talk have you down? Then watch the Marlins' wacky Kevin Millar, who keeps everybody laughing

Aug. 26, 2002
Aug. 26, 2002

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Aug. 26, 2002

A Character Guy Strike talk have you down? Then watch the Marlins' wacky Kevin Millar, who keeps everybody laughing

Florida Marlins outfielder Kevin Millar emerges from the shower
after a game with the panache of a Versace runway model. After
drying off, he folds a fresh towel in half and neatly wraps it
around his watermelon torso like a miniskirt. The white cotton
comfortably drapes his thighs, leaving a thin slit down his left
leg. It's neat and stylish and graceful and....

This is an article from the Aug. 26, 2002 issue

"Oh, my God!" yells catcher Mike Redmond. "What kind of look is
that?"

Millar, who describes his 6-foot, 215-pound physique as a "Harley
body," is never one to pass up a chance for a smackdown. "Dude,
how are those obliques doing?" says Millar, pointing to the
modest rolls of flesh hanging over the top of Redmond's shorts.
"Are they waiting for a bus or something?" He doesn't stop there;
he busts on Redmond's Texas-sized forehead and fading hairline as
well.

Everyone's fair game for Millar. First baseman Derrek Lee's lips
are "the world's fattest." Catcher Ramon Castro owns "Jay Leno's
chin." Third baseman Mike Lowell has "Pete Sampras's eyebrows."
The Marlins' clubhouse, more Delta Tau Delta chapter room than
big league locker room, goes berserk when Millar lets loose.
Laughter and shouting fill the air. No holds are barred. Millar
is tagged a "dumb cracker" and "a homeboy trapped in a white
man's body."

"I'd say he's the funniest guy I've ever played with, but that's
not enough," says Lee. "Kevin is the funniest person I've ever
met."

When Florida took the field for the first game of a road series
against the Chicago Cubs last August, Millar burst from the
dugout and mimicked Sammy Sosa's Wrigley ritual--sprinting to
rightfield at full speed, right hand to ear. The bleacher bums
responded with a bloodthirsty chorus of boos. "They're calling me
Billy Ray Cyrus, they're calling me Mullet Head," says Millar,
who, in fact, sports a mullet. "I was thinking, Hmmm, maybe this
wasn't a good joke." Yet Millar imitated Sosa again the next day.
And the next. By the time the Marlins left town, Wrigley belonged
to Millar.

On a team of young, flamethrowing starting pitchers and powerful,
athletic regulars, Millar is an oddity: 30, lumpy and flawed--well
below average as a base runner and outfielder. Yet after last
season, during which he hit .314 with 20 homers and 85 RBIs in a
career-high 449 at bats, he earned a starting job. As Florida's
second-oldest regular, Millar sets the tone for the kids. "You
can lead in many ways," says Marlins manager Jeff Torborg. "One
is by needling or kidding or cajoling. That's his calling."

In yet another disappointing season for Florida (60-63 through
Sunday), during which its No. 1 starter (Ryan Dempster) and
All-Star slugger (Cliff Floyd) have been dumped because of their
salaries, Millar's affability has helped keep his teammates'
spirits afloat. He's not the Marlins' best player (in an
injury-plagued season he was hitting .273 with 13 homers and 37
RBIs in 89 games at week's end), but in trying times he's the
most valuable. "Humor," Millar says, "reminds us that we're here
to have fun. And that's important."

Unlike most of his peers, Millar has had to survive a lifetime of
baseball rejection. At University High in Los Angeles he was a
hard-nosed, underskilled third baseman who hardly seemed destined
for the majors. "You could name four or five guys on the team who
were better than he was," says high school teammate Dave Ravitz,
who went on to play at UCLA. While friends were pursued by
four-year schools, Millar's only contact came (without a
scholarship offer) from L.A. City College, a two-year school in
the heart of gang-infested South Central Los Angeles. During a
showcase game in front of scouts in nearby Compton, "there was a
Crips and Bloods peace council in the parking lot," says Millar.
"Gangsters were cruising around, checking out the action."

Undrafted out of junior college despite a .385 average in his
second year, Millar was recruited by only one Division I school,
a place he'd never heard of in a town he didn't know. Still, when
coach Jim Gilligan of Lamar, in Beaumont, Texas, offered a full
ride, Millar jumped. "First time I saw him was in L.A., and we
hit him 10 grounders at third base," says Gilligan. "Eight or
nine hit him in the chest or face. His technique was terrible.
His enthusiasm was off the charts."

After a fine first year at Lamar, Millar again failed to get
drafted. During his senior year, in which he batted .324 with 54
RBIs, scouts routinely told him he was on their lists. Then came
the draft, and again he was ignored. Afterward Millar--a light
drinker--bought a 12-pack and checked into a motel. "I sat there
by myself, thinking baseball was over for me," he says. "I got
smashed, and I cried and cried. It was the first time this game
brought me to tears."

The next day Millar snapped out of the doldrums. He received a
call from Gilligan, who on his behalf had phoned a friend with
the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. Millar
was flown in for a tryout, at which he met Leon (Bull) Durham,
the former Cubs All-Star who also was trying to catch on with the
Saints. The two made the team and roomed together. It proved to
be an invaluable experience for Millar, then 21. "That season was
what baseball is all about," he says. "The Saints had a pig take
balls to the umpire and a nun giving massages behind the first
base dugout--and Bull told me several times that I would make it
to the big leagues. So many people had said I wouldn't. He
believed in me."

Durham's faith was well placed. On Sept. 20, 1993, the Marlins
purchased Millar's contract and those of two other Saints for a
total of $5,000, and he spent the next season with the Class A
Kane County (Ill.) Cougars in the Midwest League. He batted .302
that year and continued to hit well as he rose through the
organization, but there was always a highly touted prospect
blocking his path to the majors. As a result he bounced from
third base to first base to leftfield. In '97, playing for the
Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs, he was named Eastern League Player of
the Year after thumping Double A pitchers for a .342 average, 32
homers and 131 RBIs. He was Florida manager Jim Leyland's final
cut that spring. Finally, early in the '98 season, he received
the call from the Marlins. "I dropped the phone," he says. "That
moment is something you live for."

Like the crabgrass growing outside Pro Player Stadium, Millar
wouldn't go away. In May 2001, after Tony Perez replaced John
Boles as manager, he told Millar that if he drove in more than he
let in, he'd be the every-day rightfielder. "There are guys who
fall through the cracks, and they have to do every little thing
they can to get noticed," says Redmond. "Kevin's stuck around for
one reason--he's a gamer."

But mostly he's a character. Millar has golden streaks dyed into
his hair. He drives a Harley with baseball-seamed skulls painted
on the gas tank. He has worn the same batting helmet for four
years; it's grotesquely caked with pine tar and crud. Last
off-season, to celebrate his 2001 success, Millar, who lives in
Beaumont with his wife, Jeana, went deer hunting for the first
time. It was a windy day in West Texas, so one of the guides
instructed Millar and his pals to use doe urine to cover their
scent and attract bucks. While the experienced outdoorsmen dabbed
the liquid around their ankles, Millar treated it like Old Spice,
rubbing it on his face, neck and arms. When the others noticed
what he was doing, they cracked up. "I felt like a fool," Millar
says, "so I told them that on Opening Day I'd spread doe urine on
my bat for good luck, just for them."

Kevin Millar: what a pisser.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON BLOW OUT A frustrated Millar nearly quit the game in 1992.COLOR PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER (MILLAR) RIDING HIGH True to his vehicle, Millar describes his physique as a "Harley body."COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS/ALLSPORT (CASTRO) Clubhouse Barbs Kevin Millar's good-natured ribbing, which includes the following jibes, is often pointed at his Florida teammates. Ramon Castro "Jay Leno's chin"COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO (LOWELL) [See caption above] Mike Lowell "Pete Sampras's eyebrows"COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE (LEE) [See caption above] Derrek Lee "World's fattest" lips

A Long Road
Here are the minor league stops Kevin Millar made before landing
in the majors for good in 2000.

Year/Team League Level Avg.
1993 St. Paul (Minn.) Northern A .260
1994 Kane County (Ill.) Midwest A .302
1995 Brevard County (Fla.) Florida State A .288
1996 Portland (Maine) Eastern Double A .318
1997 Portland (Maine) Eastern Double A .342
1998 Charlotte International Triple A .326
1999 Calgary Pacific Coast Triple A .301