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Mason Miller’s Path From D3 to MLB: How a Near-Death Experience Shaped His Career

From a 155-pound Division III pitcher throwing in the low-80s to sitting 100 mph in the big leagues. How’d he do it?

The story behind Mason Miller's incredible rise from Division 3 to MLB pitcher
Credit-Getty Images/Joker Mag

“He should be in a coma — or dead.” Instead, he’s firing 100-mile-per-hour fastballs past Major League hitters.

Growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Mason Miller dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. But it wasn’t his main focus.

“In high school, he was focused on his church, his Boy Scouts, he dabbled in basketball,” said Tony Fisher, his baseball coach at Bethel Park High School. “He liked baseball, but by his junior year, he had some success.”

That year, the right-hander developed into an ace for the Varsity squad. But he still wouldn’t describe himself as the best player on his team. And by that point, reality started to sink in.

“I had dreams to compete at the highest collegiate level during high school,” Miller told The Almanac. “But quickly realized my talents then lined up better with D3.”

One summer, while competing in a summer ball game in West Virginia, Miller caught the eye of Michael Humiston, head coach of Division III Waynesburg University.

After a campus visit, Miller committed to the school. But, as a small, private college with less than 2,000 students, it wasn’t exactly a hub for professional scouts. And Miller’s early struggles didn’t help his case.

Through his first two college seasons, Miller allowed 51 earned runs in 64 2⁄3 innings. He was throwing in the low-80s and had trouble locating his pitches.

The window for his big league dream was closing fast. But what happened next changed the course of his life – and baseball career – forever.

A quote from MLB pitcher Mason Miller that reads: "Baseball is baseball is still baseball at any level. The bases are still 90 feet apart and the field is the same. Some things don’t change."

After his sophomore year – like most college students – Mason Miller was preparing for a summer internship. The only thing that stood in the way of becoming a finance intern at Jefferson Hospital was a simple drug test.

But Miller’s test revealed troubling results. His blood sugar levels were off the charts. Normal levels fall between 80 and 120 mg/dL, and his were around 700 mg/dL.

When Coach Humiston heard the news, he didn’t know what to make of it.

“I don’t know anything about [blood sugar levels], so I asked my wife, who worked for some doctors here in town,” Humiston said.

“I covered the phone and said, ‘Hey, 700 sugar level, is that bad?’ And she goes, ‘Oh, my gosh, who’s got that?’ And I said, ‘Mason.’ She goes, ‘Oh my gosh, Mike, that’s awful. He should be in a coma — or dead.’”

Miller remembers the life-changing moment all too well.

“I was immediately sent to the emergency room,” Miller recalls. “It was a total shock. I didn’t go in thinking I’d end up in the ER by the end of the day, but it was nice to finally know what was finally going on with my body.”

Despite a strict training regimen, Miller had lost 20 pounds over the course of his sophomore year. At the time of the drug test, he weighed just 155 pounds and barely filled his 6’5″ frame.

The diagnosis came back as Type 1 diabetes. According to Mayo Clinic, “treatment is directed toward managing the amount of sugar in the blood using insulin, diet, and lifestyle to prevent complications.”

Rather than viewing the diagnosis as a debilitating problem, Miller saw it as a chance to transform his baseball career.

“Athletically, that’s when everything started to click for me,” he said.

“I made gains physically, and it transitioned onto the mound. I made a big jump velocity-wise. [Diabetes] was an adjustment for some of the things I need to do day-to-day to take care of myself, but athletically, it gave me the boost I needed to propel me to this point.”

Combining his treatment with a high-protein diet and intense workout routine, Miller packed on an astonishing 50 pounds ahead of his junior year. The added size and strength translated to the mound, where his velocity began reaching the low 90s.

The results changed, too. As a junior, he posted a 1.86 ERA and struck out 97 batters in 67 2⁄3 innings. He was named first-team All-Conference and second-team All-Mideast Region by D3baseball.com.

Pro scouts began to take notice (yes, D3 players have made it to MLB), and Miller had workouts with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies during that time.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed everything. College athletics stopped, and his senior season was cut short.

Miller was a pro prospect, projected to be drafted between the fifth and seventh rounds of the draft. But there was just one problem. The 2020 MLB Draft was shortened from 40 to just 5 rounds.

“I thought my career was over at that point,” Miller said.

Luckily, the NCAA granted players an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. After speaking with his coaches at Waynesburg, he decided to enter the transfer portal.

“We told him, ‘You coming back here, there’s obviously nothing left to prove,’” then-assistant coach Perry Cunningham said.

With his fastball now reaching the upper-90s, there were plenty of Division I programs interested. After narrowing down his list, Miller ultimately chose Gardner-Webb University, where he slotted in as the Friday night starter for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Making the leap from D3 to D1 is no easy task. But Mason Miller had no issues adjusting.

In his first start, he struck out 11 batters over six innings. Two starts later, he K’d 13 over seven frames.

Scouts began to flock to his games as the hype grew. But it didn’t phase him.

“I know they are there, but I don’t feel any extra pressure,” Miller said. “I just try to go out there and play catch with the catcher like I always have.”

He finished the year with a 3.30 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 92 2⁄3 innings.

Then, on July 12th, 2021, his dreams came true.

The Oakland Athletics selected Mason Miller with the 97th overall pick of the 2021 MLB Draft, signing him for $599,100.

Since that moment, Miller seemed to be on the fast track to the big leagues.

After overcoming an early scapula strain, the flame-throwing righty ascended every rank of the minor leagues in 2022. But his minor league career totaled just 28 2⁄3 innings.

Over that time, Miller’s velocity ballooned to over 100 MPH. He added more size and refined his arsenal of pitches.

Then, on April 19th, 2023, he made his MLB debut – striking out five and touching 100 MPH 15 times. Two starts later, he fired seven no-hit innings against the Seattle Mariners.

It’s been quite the journey for Mason Miller – from struggling in Division III to dominating Major League Baseball. As he continues to defy the odds, the sky is the limit.

His approach to the game lies at the heart of his success.

“Guys are bigger, faster, stronger up here. Everybody is really good,” Miller said. “It takes work to get them out, but at the same time, baseball is still baseball at any level. The bases are still 90 feet apart and the field is the same. Some things don’t change.”

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Written By

Division III baseball alum (McDaniel College) and founder of Joker Mag. Sharing underdog stories to inspire the next generation.

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