Back on the mound: Peters grad overcomes health issues to return to baseball

By John Sacco for The Almanac 7 min read
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Courtesy of Baldwin-Wallace University

Garrett Miller

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Courtesy of Baldwin-Wallace University

Peters Township native Garrett Miller pitches for the Baldwin-Wallace University Yellow Jackets.

Garrett Miller drove his car to the side of the road, parked and called his parents.

If what he told them and the tone of his voice was not the last thing they wanted to hear, it was frighteningly close enough.

The youngest of Carrie and David Miller’s three children informed his parents that he could not drive any longer and he could not breathe. He was having another panic attack. The air was going out of his life.

Those words represented the problems Garrett was going through after having surgery on his pitching elbow after his freshman baseball season at Baldwin-Wallace University, Berea, Ohio, near Cleveland.

Frankly, the surgery ended up being the least of the young Miller’s worries.

“It was scary for all of us as a family,” said Carrie Miller, Garrett’s mother.

“There were times he had panic attacks because of anxiety,” said Garrett’s father, David Miller.

Pitching for the Yellow Jackets baseball team was far away from his mind at that moment. He was just hoping to overcome his panic and fears.

Garrett went to Baldwin-Wallace to play baseball. He graduated from Peters Township in 2018. He had an outstanding season as a freshman in 2019 as one of the team’s top pitchers. He received the Baldwin-Wallace Most Outstanding Freshman Award.

After the elbow surgery to repair a nerve, it was found he had a vascular problem in his abdomen and chest – median arcuate ligament syndrome (MAL) – which is also known as the celiac artery that supplies blood to the stomach. Garrett also discovered he had another vascular condition in his shoulder – thoracic outlet syndrome. That condition could turn his shoulder purple at times, he said.

“He had rehabilitation bumps in the road,” David Miller said. “Anxiety set in, and medicine is so specialized now that Garrett had to make appointments and get to a myriad of doctors. All their schedules don’t always jive. He had to wait for some of those appointments. You can’t just go to one doctor. He had to go to the stomach guy, the elbow guy, the neurology guy. That takes time to set up, manage and then actually go.

“There’s time between appointments and you think about what’s going on. It can be tough.”

Carrie recalled jumping in the car at the family home in McMurray one night and heading to Cleveland Clinic because Garrett’s anxiety level was through the roof and he was frantic.

“We went, Garrett needed some answers,” she said. “We wanted him to feel the support.

Garrett was seeking options and relief.

“When I think of the low point, it was not having anything to turn to medically, locked in a room during COVID. It was tough to see anything good.”

He decided on meditation, started different breathing techniques and started journaling because the alternatives did not match his tastes.

He refused to have a stent implanted. He also declined medicine, as he would have been placed on blood thinners “for the rest of my life,” he said.

“There are a million side effects to blood thinners anyway,” Garrett said. “So now, I drink tea, live as healthy as I can. Basically, I try to get as much sleep as I can, meditate and journal and eat a lot. I just do everything I can in my power to be healthy.

“I didn’t completely change my diet, but I certainly have taken everything when it comes to my dietary habits differently. I basically have a circulation problem with my stomach. I try to get it moving early in the day. I take about 15 supplements. I don’t really eat dairy anymore because it’ll make me throw up, and it’s a lot harder for my stomach to digest. I eat a lot of small meals each day because big meals make me sick. I can’t handle that. I really don’t try to eat sugars anymore, at least artificial sweeteners. I’m not overboard. I just try to eat healthy foods, lift (weights) twice every day and do yoga.

“I had to deal with this about a year before I got an answer to what was going on. I never was scared about my long-term health. But I did develop anxiety and start to panic. I had to come to grips with mental health issues. I did feel vindicated that they finally found something.”

“One of the doctors questioned him,” David Miller said.

Garrett was relieved to know what was ailing him.

The younger Miller said he did speak with a sports psychologist early in the recovery process.

“I felt like he was giving up on me,” he added.

“It was toughest for me right before the diagnosis,” Garrett said. “I went through all those tests and didn’t know anything more than when I started. I was mentally a mess.

“I felt bad for my family because we were all frustrated. It sucked.”

The Millers and their two daughters – Alexis Brown, 27, of Colorado, and Erika Miller, 26, who resides in Pittsburgh, pulled together to support their son and brother. That support carried him through some troubled waters.

“So many times, I just didn’t say much because I didn’t want them to be burdened with bad news,” Garrett said of his family. “They were all there for me suffering through it all.”

Said Carrie: “The kids have come closer together through this. Garrett’s more open with his sisters now. He trusts them. I hear them talking. It brought us all closer together.”

Garrett said he has changed – not his love for baseball – but his outlook.

“I did a lot of self-reflection,” he said. “I have more sympathy and empathy for those dealing with health (physical and mental) issues. So many people took the time to ask me how I was doing. That meant something to me. I just try to be more optimistic and uplifting.”

Garrett always believed he would return to the pitcher’s mound for Baldwin-Wallace. He had gained weight, going from 143 pounds to about 180 pounds.

“When I got back, I had to be all in, contributing,” he said. “I didn’t want teammates or others whispering, ‘Oh, there’s the guy who used to be good.'”

He and his Yellow Jackets coach hadn’t seen much of each other since 2020. They had a chance meeting earlier this year and while he had not thrown at all, Garrett took the coach up on an invitation to practice.

He built his arm strength and made his first appearance since 2019, starting against Wooster, pitching five innings, allowing just two hits and a run to get the win.

“For most kids, I would be 100% surprised they would come back from that,” Baldwin-Wallace Coach Brian Harrison said. “With somebody like Garrett, it is not surprising. He’s special.

“I’ve coached a lot of kids, not many with the makeup, character and heart Garrett has. We all just like being around him. He brings a lot and so is good for our other kids. He’s a mentor to them. The day he came back and performed so fantastic was a special moment for everybody.”


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