SAN DIEGO -- It's rare for teams to have their 14th-round picks turn into stars. In Vijay Miller, the Padres might already have that luxury, but he isn't yet a star on the diamond.Miller's stardom is on laptop screens. He was one of the young football players featured in the
SAN DIEGO -- It's rare for teams to have their 14th-round picks turn into stars. In Vijay Miller, the Padres might already have that luxury, but he isn't yet a star on the diamond.
Miller's stardom is on laptop screens. He was one of the young football players featured in the second season of Netflix's "Last Chance U," a docuseries that follows the powerhouse football program at East Mississippi Community College. Miller served as the backup quarterback on a Lions team that won a Mississippi junior college state championship before he took the mound as a right-hander in the spring.
"I already went through the whole series," Miller said in a phone interview with MLB.com. "It didn't take me long to do that."
The show's title derives from EMCC's tendency to recruit athletes cut from other programs, often for legal or academic issues. With EMCC being in Scooba, Miss., a town with less than 1,000 residents, the players have little to do but go to school and play football. Alums include former Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, Auburn's John Franklin III and Florida State-turned-Florida Atlantic quarterback DeAndre Johnson.
Miller said it wasn't trouble that sent him to EMCC, but recognition of its successes. The Lions won a national title in 2011 before claiming back-to-back championships in '13 and '14. Their hopes for a three-peat ended after a fight in their final regular-season game, featured prominently in the series' first season, made them ineligible for the '15 postseason.
"Mostly, it was the recognition of them getting players out," Miller said. "They've got a big-time football program. ...They're winning championships, and the more you win, the more recognition you get."
Miller's time at EMCC didn't lead him to a Division I football program, but into the Padres' system. After San Diego took him in the 14th round, he headed to the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he's posted a 5.14 ERA but struck out 15 in 14 innings through Wednesday.
Miller describes himself as "an attack guy" on the mound, but as a quarterback, he was more analytical and a reader of defenses.
The show's television crew interviewed players in their dorms, visited their classes and sat in on coach Buddy Stephens' halftime speeches. Miller, who watched the first season with EMCC teammates after arriving on campus, said the cameras didn't interfere with him too much, though they certainly made him more aware of how he acted.
"The main focus was still how I performed on the football field," Miller said. "I just blocked the cameras out for the most part, but from watching from Season 1, I realized you have to watch what you say and what you do so you don't portray a bad image for yourself.
"For a lot of the guys that you see, it really is their last chance."
Serving as a goal-line quarterback, Miller led the team in rushing touchdowns. His only start came in the Lions' 2016 opener, the focus of the second season's first episode. In it, Miller discusses his decision to come to EMCC and his passion for baseball.
Miller chose baseball over football because of the "opportunity" that came along with being drafted, he said. Despite the heat of Arizona, he's enjoying his time in the Padres' Minor League system, even though his teammates give him a hard time about his fame; since the second season's release July 21, Miller's Twitter follower count has more than doubled.
"They're all on my [back] about how I'm a superstar or something like that," Miller said. " I got a lot of messages [on social media], people saying that I'm their inspiration and everything."
That's more than most 14th-round picks can say.
Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in San Diego.