Judging a Book by Its Cover

Justin Miller, the Giants’ right-handed relief pitcher, looks like a prison-yard thug out of central casting. His body is covered with tattoos. Every inch of his arms, from shoulders to wrists, is inked with images of clowns and angels. On his back are two huge block letters — “LA” — stretching from his neck to his waist and surrounded by swirling designs. “MILLER” is stamped across his lower back. The letters on his knuckles spell out “love” and “hate” in Spanish. On his inner lip are the numbers “5150,” police code for a mentally disturbed person.

And of course there’s the shaved head and soul patch.

No surprise, then, that Miller turns heads when he pulls his three-year-old son, Johnnie, in a little red wagon down the quiet roads of his suburban Florida neighborhood. Or when neighbors spy him cleaning out the garage with his 14-year-old son, Joey.

“When he’s home, he’s Mr. Mom,” says Jessica, Miller’s wife. “He’s absolutely a great dad. Completely hands-on. He is all about the family.”

On paper, Justin and Jessica should not have made it as a couple, much less as an intact family. Theirs is an unlikely love story.

They met when Jessica was in eighth grade and Justin in 10th in their Southern California town of Torrance. Jessica became pregnant at 14, just before high school, and had Joey at 15. Justin was 17. Jessica’s parents took legal guardianship, and Justin stopped by to visit with the baby on his way home from his high school baseball practices. He finished high school and went on to play baseball at Los Angeles Harbor Junior College. Jessica also finished high school, earning straight A’s, and went on to LA Harbor, too.

Becoming a father made Justin take baseball more seriously. He had to grow up quickly and become responsible, and that meant putting in the work necessary to reach the pros.

“I don’t know where I would have been if I didn’t have (Joey),” Justin says.

When Justin was drafted in the fifth round by the Rockies in 1997, he asked Jessica to marry him. She was still in college and working two jobs. They had a courthouse wedding in September of that year, then a proper church wedding and reception the following February with Joey, then three years old, as the ring-bearer.

“She deserved the wedding of her dreams,” Justin says.

He was 20 and she was 18.

They have been married 11 years. They had a second child three years ago.

“With Joey, we kind of all grew up together,” Jessica says. “Joey’s like our little buddy. He’s always been so mature for his age. He’s the greatest kid ever. Our decision to have Johnnie was kind of about having a re-do. We were older and could enjoy it more this time around.”

Justin got his first tattoo at the age of 15, just a year older than his teenaged son is now. Justin’s father took him to the tattoo parlor himself to make sure he had it done safely. But that won’t be happening with Joey, Jessica says.

“Justin chooses to do the tattoos, that’s his thing,” she says. “But I’m not going to allow my kids to have tattoos until they’re of legal age to get one. When Justin talks about getting a tattoo on his neck or his head, I tell him ‘If that’s what you want to do, then be prepared to not have a job. Be prepared for the stereotype that comes with it.’ ”

Even in baseball, where many players sport tattoos, Justin stands out – so much so that his tattooed arms prompted what some call “The Justin Miller Rule.” It states that “no pitcher shall have markings on his body that are potentially distracting to the umpire or batter.” Miller has to wear long sleeves when he pitches.

Among the weird clown faces and skulls inked forever on his body, there are the names of his children – “Johnnie” and “Joseph” – on his chest and, alongside the giant “LA” on his back, drawings of the two boys. On the back of his neck is “Jessica.”

“People have such a misconception about Justin because of all the tattoos,” Jessica says. “The tattoos are on the outside, but that’s not who he is on the inside.”

5 Comments

Wow, this is a really beautiful story!! I know that I comment pretty much the same thing every time, but it’s true! I really love reading these, so keep it up!!! Thanks so much for the peek we get to have into the players’ lives.
Lauren
http://sfgiantsgirl.mlblogs.com

I love these stories, keep up the good work! It really humanizes the players, I think, for the fans.

Oh, do you know why Justin decided to sign a minor league contract with the Giants? With his record, I would have thought some other team would have offered him a MLB deal, at least. Being down in LA, the odds are low that he grew up a Giants fan, though there are some down there who do that.

What a great story – and it is amazing that they could overcome the odds of being teen parents.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Great story, Joan. Really enjoyed it.

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