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Braves’ seventh-inning star: tenor Timothy Miller



Braves’ seventh-inning star: tenor Timothy Miller

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, May 24, 2014

By Steve Hummer - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution



He was a raw rookie, starting out like so many of the good ones do, in the choir loft.

Puberty was kind to him; the voice cracked but came back big and bold. He did his time in the back row of the Morehouse Glee Club, slowing rotating to front and center by his senior year. While he played some overseas, and at domestic venues here and there, it wasn’t until 2010, at the age of 28, that Timothy Miller was called up to the majors.

Look at him now: Simply the Braves’ best late-inning performer, period. Sorry, Craig Kimbrel.

“He’s batting 1.000 at Turner Field,” right fielder Jason Heyward said of Miller.

And what’s better than perfect?

Miller hits it every time. Every Sunday home game, and more often during holiday weekends such as this one, Miller appears just outside the Braves dugout at the bottom of the seventh inning, one man in a black tuxedo among many in clay-stained play clothes. On the big center field video board, the recording of selected players reciting the intro to “God Bless America” commences. When the final one has had his say, it is Miller time.

In his classically trained voice, he launches into the body of the patriotic tune — the one that the late Kate Smith turned into a standard, the one that became de rigueur at New York ballparks after 9-11 and spread through the rest of baseball.

Each word impeccably formed and inflated extra-large by a tenor’s bellows.

Wait for it. Here it comes. The final four words, building one on another, until the last one erupts from some extra organ inside Miller and insists upon working its way up your spine like an electrical charge.

My…hooome…sweeeeeet…HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOME.

Another walk-off home run for Miller. “Every time it’s emotional, it’s moving, it’s passionate,” Heyward said. “I don’t know if he’ll tell you that it’s perfect, but it’s perfect.”

The rave reviews just keep on coming.

“It fires you up, makes you want to go out there and play really hard. You know he’s doing his job as best as he can, and we want to do the same, too.” — Freddy Freeman, first baseman.

“One of the best voices I ever heard. We get excited hearing him.” — Fredi Gonzalez, manager.

Miller decided he wasn’t cut out for serious athletics early in high school in Augusta, when on a band-camp trip to Athens he looked in on the mesomorphs on the Georgia football practice field and knew that he’d never measure up. Yet, he has become every bit an important part of the Braves. One supposes baseball games against Colorado and Boston on Sunday and Monday would be an OK way to mark Memorial Day, but by themselves they would lack the patriotic flourish that Miller will supply. This holiday is prime “God Bless America” territory, and Miller has marked that as purely his own.

Sure, it is a paying gig — undisclosed, but nowhere in the neighborhood of some of the Braves’ other part-time employees (Dan Uggla). And yes, it comes with some nice perks. He, his wife and two kids get good seats to the game.

But there is more to his presence than commerce. The son of a 20-year Army man turned Baptist preacher and a Morehouse man through and through (Class of 2003, and currently an adjunct professor of voice and music), Miller always has been fond of tradition. Now he is making his own, on a diamond instead of an operatic stage.

Miller has taken his voice to some impressive places. The kid who began with hymns at his father’s church sang “Ain’t Got Time to Die” at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, sang the “National Anthem” and “To God be the Glory” at Nathan Deal’s 2011 inauguration, toured Europe doing “Porgy & Bess” and has appeared in numerous operas, many with the Atlanta Opera company.

He’s not stodgy about his gift; he’ll take it to the oddest places. Miller once did a promo for The Cartoon Network, in which he sang the network’s lineup to the tune of “O sole mio.”

Yet when a worker at Kroger recently recognized him and thanked him for his artistry, Miller knew the clerk was referring to his work at the ballpark. No one has blocked his shopping cart yet and said, “Hey, weren’t you the First Armored Man in the Atlanta Opera’s 2010 production of ‘The Magic Flute?’”

When Miller was one of eight performers the Atlanta Opera sent to the Braves to try out for the job in 2010, what he won was the largest audience for which he would ever perform.

He may or may not tempt a baseball fan to check out the opera — “I don’t know if I could sit through one,” Freeman admitted — but Miller is going to class up the joint one way or another.

“The power of the human voice can touch people, whether it’s singing “God Bless America” or in the opera house,” said Tomer Zvulun, the Atlanta Opera’s artistic director.

“The No. 1 thing I try to relate to all of my students: If you give of yourself through your sound, people will feel it,” Miller said. “People always come up to me and say they got really emotional when I sang, or that I gave them goose bumps. And that’s because I’m sending out vibrations that the audience feels. It connects us on a very human level in that you feel the same thing I’m feeling when I’m singing. It’s very cool and moving.”

It may not be opera when Miller belts out “God Bless America” or “The National Anthem,” but like he says, “They are powerful, powerful songs.” And with them he has reached across the world, once getting an excited report from a son of a deacon at his father’s church who saw the seventh-inning performance on the Armed Forces Network while in Afghanistan.

His has no exact count, but Miller figures he has performed “God Bless America” close to 50 times at Turner Field. Some occasions may be more special than others — such as Memorial Day. But at no time has the song grown old or stale for him, he said.

“That may be true for a lot of songs and lot of pieces in general,” Miller said. “But the thing that keeps you connected to a piece like “God Bless America” is when you talk to servicemen or someone comes up to you after the performance and they say ‘Your rendition really moved me,’ or they just give me a thumb’s up.

“I take time just before I sing, during the introduction, to really think about that. Were it not for the sacrifices of people, named and unnamed, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today. That gives more than enough motivation to sing with some feeling.”

The Braves’ best late-inning performer at 32 is only now hitting his peak. “For a tenor, this is when his voice really kicks in, in his early 30s,” Miller said. The kid’s got a lot of good seasons in front of him.

TIMOTHY MILLER FILE

Age: 32

Birthplace: Augusta

Home: Atlanta

Family: Wife, Iuyana, daughter, Morgan (6), and son, Matthew (4).

Career highlights: Has performed with local, national, and international opera companies. Operatic roles include Monastatos and First Armored Man in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote,” Street in “The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” and Un Messaggero in “Aida.” In June 2008 he sang the role of Crab Man in critically acclaimed performances of “Porgy and Bess”at the Opera-Comique in Paris and on tour in Luxembourg, Granada, and Normandy. Soloist for the funeral of the late Coretta Scott King, featured performer for the 2011 Georgia gubernatorial inauguration.

Is an adjunct professor of voice and music at Morehouse College.

What he listens to in his car: Sports talk radio; may flip to gospel or classics.

Sports leanings: Grew up a Georgia Tech and San Francisco 49ers fan

 

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