Backup OL has baseball ties

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Redshirt sophomore center Jack Miller knows that after the holidays this year, when his entire extended family gets together to sit down and rehash the year, the conversation might be dominated by sports. For his dad's side of the family, that's nothing unusual, but there have been a few highlights this year that everyone will want to hear about.

First, there's Jack's second season at Michigan. His first was topped off with an Allstate Sugar Bowl victory. He's hoping this year he'll be able to talk about a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl win.

Then there's Matt, Jack's younger brother. The 2014 offensive lineman committed to Wisconsin last June and undoubtedly the family will already be discussing plans and predictions for Oct. 10, 2015, the next time Wisconsin and Michigan will meet in the regular season.

But the bulk of the conversation could go to their great uncle, tucked in the corner with his white hair and ample supply of jokes. To Matt and Jack, he's Uncle Jimbo. To the rest of the world he's Jim Leyland, manager of the American League champion Detroit Tigers.

"Growing up, there had been these talks of how great of a manager he'd been or wearing a World Series ring," Jack said. "There was a certain element that we understood what he had done, but not until he got to the Tigers [in 2006] did we get to be a part of it."

It still takes Jack and Matt by surprise sometimes when they see Leyland on TV. And with the season the Tigers have had -- an ALDS championship over the Oakland A's and a sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS -- it has been often.

To them, Uncle Jimbo is still the guy who showed up at their football games and talked scheme and tactics at the holidays. He just happens to manage one of the most successful franchises in baseball.

"Jim has always loved football," said Judy Leyland, Jim's sister and Jack's grandmother. "It was attractive to him that Jack and Matt were playing, even as Pee Wee players. As it evolved and it became apparent that they both had some talent and ability, I think Jim was watching them even more closely."

And Jack and Matt were keeping tabs on Uncle Jimbo, too.

When Leyland left scouting to become the manager of the Tigers in 2006, the boys were excited. In Leyland's first year with Detroit, the Tigers made it to the ALCS.

The entire family was excited for the series, but Jack and Matt faced a clash between football and baseball.

With the Tigers' 3-0 lead over the Oakland Athletics, the fourth game happened to fall on the same evening as the annual St. Ed's-St. Ignatius game -- one of the most fierce high school football rivalries in Cleveland.

Jack was in eighth grade and would be attending St. Ed's the next fall, so he made the tough choice to pass up the Tigers' game. Matt, on the other hand, was just a sixth-grader and he made the opposite (though equally tough) decision to pick the Tigers over high school football.

"I just remember I was kind of disappointed in myself ... when I took the Tigers ticket even though it was going to be the night of the St. Ed's-St. Ignatius game," Matt said. "St. Ed's-St. Ignatius is the game everyone goes to."

But eventually, Matt's decision would pay off. Not only would he get to witness Magglio Ordonez's walk-off home run after the Tigers rallied from a 3-0 deficit, but Matt also would get to celebrate with Ordonez and his great uncle in the clubhouse after the game.

"I remember rubbing it in his face for a little while after that," Matt said.

So when Game 4 of the ALCS came around in 2012, Jack promised himself he would do everything in his power not to miss it. Unfortunately for Jack, he doesn't have power over Mother Nature.

With the first pitch against the Yankees scheduled for 8:07 p.m. on a Wednesday in Detroit, Jack knew he could make it from his Michigan football practice in Ann Arbor in time. But as he and Matt approached Tiger Stadium, whispers of a rain delay started passing from fan to fan.

"For most people it wasn't a big deal," Jack said. "We were in the tunnel during the rain delay with all the other families and everyone is saying, 'Oh, they're moving it to tomorrow.' And they're not going anywhere and I'm just like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' "

And when the game was officially rescheduled to the following afternoon, Jack cringed. Just as he had in 2006, Jack would miss the game for football (though this time it was Michigan football practice) and Matt, as he had in 2006, would attend the Tigers' game.

And, as they did in 2006, the Tigers would win, Matt would celebrate on the field, and Jack would hear about it later.

Matt, though, was a bit more careful with his words this time around.

"I showed him mercy," Matt said. "I really felt bad for him. He called me on my way home and he asked me a few questions and I started getting into what all happened and he told me to stop. He said he was too sad to hear all the news."

There's still a chance that Jack can make a World Series game and celebrate on the field and in the clubhouse with his great uncle. And even if he doesn't, by the time the Millers and Leylands all get together, Jack hopes he'll have some of his own good news to share.