It’s Miller time (again)

Natalie Miller, cousin of the Miller brothers chosen to play for MLB teams, is a stand-out ballplayer in her own right in baseball and fastpitch
Ozaukee Press staff

Natalie Miller realized as a young girl that, “Yeah, I can hang with these boys.”

“I’ve been playing baseball my entire life since I was 4,” the Ozaukee High School sophomore said.

Now she also plays fastpitch softball for a national team.

Natalie is the cousin of Owen Miller, who made his Major League Baseball debut this season, and Owen’s recently drafted brother Noah. Natalie’s older brother Matt, a senior at Ozaukee High, is a rising baseball star as well.

Natalie remembers the four of them  honing their skills and competitive fire in Wiffle ball games in Owen and Noah’s backyard, a short bike ride from her home in Fredonia.

Plastic bases were used and a mini-trampoline was the backstop. They wrapped the ball in duct tape so it would fly farther. Natalie paired with Owen and took on Noah and Matt. Owen always pitched and Natalie ran back and forth in the field.

“It got competitive, that’s for sure. Every game was played tough with heart,” Natalie said.

If the ball landed on the deck or over the house, it was a home run.

“If you hit the house, Uncle Tom wasn’t happy,” Natalie said.

When she turned 11, Natalie joined male-dominant Little League. As she approached high school, she had a decision to make. Ozaukee had just started a softball program.

Her teammates told her to stick with America’s pastime. “You have to play baseball next year,”  they said.

Natalie chose to stay with baseball and made the varsity team. She got a surprise before the Warriors’ season opener at Random Lake. Natalie was to start at second base.

“Coach Steve (Kowalkowski) was calling out the lineup and I did a double take. I was so shocked,” she said.

Natalie started every game of the season, playing next to her old Wiffle ball teammate Noah at shortstop. At third base was their Wiffle ball rival Matt.

“That was crazy awesome,” she said of one family comprising most of the Warriors’ infield.

“I’d say we did a pretty good job,” she said. We locked it down for the most part. We were always talking with each other — who’s got second on a steal. We turned a few double plays,” she said. “We just click.”

That’s not the only family connection on the Warriors. Natalie’s cousin Talan Dybul ­— they’re related via their mothers — started at catcher as a freshman. The stands could pass for mini-family gatherings at times.

The guys accepted her right away — she had played with many for years. Opposing teams were sometimes shocked to see a girl play, she said, but Natalie zoned in and didn’t let it bother her.

While she chose to play baseball for Ozaukee, Natalie added a travel softball team to her schedule last fall. She tried out and was selected to play with Bats Fastpitch Academy in Mequon.

Her new teammates instantly noticed Natalie played the other sport.

“I showed up to softball tryouts in baseball pants,” she said.

Natalie originally was on the regional team but soon was selected for the higher-level national team. She played with the 14-year-old and younger team this summer ­— it recently won a tournament in Tennessee, going 8-0 in four days — and in fall will move to the 16-year-old team.

At one point, she was playing for the Warriors and Bats and easily made the transition between the two sports.

“I didn’t even struggle,” she said, adding her only home run in softball came while she balanced both sports.

Natalie throws with her right hand but bats lefty. She is not, however, a slapper, someone who smacks a grounder and uses speed to reach first base. Natalie is a power hitter who worked her way from the bottom of the lineup to the No. 2 or 3 hitter. She doesn’t like running as much but understands it comes with being a good hitter.

“I’m obviously new to softball. Bats has really helped me,” she said.

She also has rare access to qualified assistance. While some players hire hitting coaches, “I just go talk to my cousins,” she said.

“Those boys taught me about baseball and softball. My dad and my Uncle Tom taught me everything I know.”

Softball, Natalie said, is a faster game than baseball, requiring quicker reaction times. The pitching rubber is 43 feet from the batter as opposed to 60 feet in baseball. As a result, Natalie uses a 32-inch, 29-ounce bat in baseball and a 33-inch, 24-ounce bat in softball.

Defense is faster as well. Bases are 60 feet apart in softball compared to 90 in baseball.

“That’s a big difference,” Natalie said. “You have a lot more time fielding in baseball.”

Natalie typically plays second base in baseball but said she will play anywhere in the infield or outfield in softball.

“As long as I’m playing, I really don’t care,” she said. “As long as I’m out there, I’m just going to give it my all.”

Fastpitch softball involves a lot of traveling, mostly across the Midwest. Weekend tournaments run through June and July, and practices in Mequon continue weekly throughout winter.

Outside of softball, Natalie works on an uncle’s farm during the day, milking and watering the calves and then doing general chores. Her grandfather picks her up at 7:20 a.m. and she usually clocks in 10 minutes later.

Once fall comes, Natalie will play volleyball for Ozaukee and then basketball, squeezing softball practices in between.

Her future plans include playing college softball, but for now she wants to stick with the Warriors’ baseball team.

“I’ll continue to play baseball for Ozaukee for the rest of high school. I don’t think I could give it up so easy,” she said.

The obvious question she often receives remains unanswered.

“People always ask me what do I like better, softball or baseball,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer that question.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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