Despite growing up in New Bern, North Carolina, former Carolina and current New York Yankee pitcher Adam Warren was no lock to be a Tar Heel. “I grew up a huge NC State fan,” he says sheepishly, “because my dad played football there and I grew up cheering for them. I was kinda anti-UNC growing up. “
But once the recruiting process began, it was a different story, admits Warren. “I just loved the coaches at Carolina. Once I visited the campus and saw the program, it became a no brainer. It felt like home to me. It couldn’t get any better than that.”
Then he ditched the State red wardrobe for Carolina blue. “Now I’m a huge Carolina fan. I made the transition, which was weird. I wanted to make my own decision.” He was happy to have a team that in his words, “I could call my own.”
When asked about his UNC recollections, Adam proudly states that his college days were “some of the best years of my life. The baseball, the school. A lot of fun. Enjoyed my time there. They took good care of me. “ It didn’t end there. When it came time to move to the next level, Warren tells us, “The coach did a good job of setting up meetings with scouts to gauge the interest in major league teams.”
After his junior year, Adam was drafted late in the 36th round by the Indians, so he decided to return for another year and finish his degree. It paid off when the New York Yankees selected him in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.
So what’s it like to be a Yankee? “It’s a dream come true, “ says Warren. Despite the fact that it’s the only team he’s suited up for, players on other teams have told him that the outside perception of the Bronx Bombers is that Yankees “do everything right here.” The traditions and the expectations of winning are not lost on Adam. “It’s neat for me to be a part of. I try not to take it for granted.”
Along the way to the big leagues, he made stops in Staten Island, Tampa and Trenton. After that came a longer stay in Scranton. Warren noted the differences between the minor leagues and college baseball. “In the minors, you’re trying to work your way up. It’s not necessarily about winning every game, but it’s more about your development. You’re trying to get to the next level, and get better as you go.”
Warren credits his father as his first pitching coach, and the person who taught Adam his basic mechanics. It paid off when he was placed on the varsity as a high school freshman. While it was a bit daunting at first, it proved to be a huge confidence booster. UNC pitching coach Scott Forbes at Carolina instructed him on pitch location and how to mix up his pitches. Adam notes, “I learned how to pitch even more in the minors. All my pitching coaches the Yankees have provided me have been excellent. So, that development has been great, because I’ve come across good coach after good coach, that have been able to make be better and take that next step.”
This season, Adam was reunited with his UNC teammate Andrew Miller, who was in his last season at Carolina when Warren was a freshman. “It was neat to be on the same team with him again, and start talking about Carolina, and the glory days. He’s a good guy to be around. It’s been neat to rekindle that friendship again.”
The Yankees also recently made a deal that brought former Tar Heel slugger Dustin Ackley to the Big Apple. “Everybody’s talking that we’re turning into the New York Tar Heels,” he says half jokingly. Adam has even had conversations with the late owner George Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer, who went to UNC.
Florida native Andrew Miller left the Sunshine State to play for the Heels. As he explains it, “I had a couple of opportunities to go places in state, particularly the University of Florida, and I started to look around. Carolina seemed like a great place, a good fit. It turned out to be awesome.” By his own admission, it was one of the best decisions he ever made. “I loved playing there. The whole experience was great, top to bottom, from school to baseball. The people I met and the friends I made, just a great experience all around.”
Miller went to basketball and football games while there, and mentioned tailgating memories. He fondly recalls being at Carolina and experiencing the basketball championship of 2005.
What does he miss most about Chapel Hill? “The campus is beautiful. The weather there is great. Franklin Street is a blast, Rosemary Street. There are a lot of great restaurants around town. I was sad to leave Carolina, but at the same time I had some good opportunities ahead of me.”
The 2006 Baseball America National Player of the Year was the sixth player taken in the draft, by the Detroit Tigers. It wasn’t long before Andrew got the call from the big leagues. The first time he made it up to The Show, “it was a whirlwind,” according to Miller. “One of those experiences that is hard to put in words. It was a lot of fun. It felt like walking on air.”
Miller circuitous journey to New York has taken him from the Motor City, down to Miami, and up to Boston and Baltimore, before arriving this year in the Bronx. When asked what it was like to play for New York’s archrival, “I had a great experience there, just like I’ve had so far here [in New York.] It’s a lot of fun to play in front of fans that care so much about the team, and I think that is something as players that we thrive on and enjoy.”
It was in Boston where the move was made to convert the lanky lefthander from a starter to a reliever. “It wasn’t so much of a decision,” says Andrew, “as it was just the way things worked out. It turned out to be a great thing for me. Everybody that’s a starting pitcher kinda dreads getting moved to the bullpen.” But Miller admits that in hindsight, it was a good move. “It allowed me to thrive at the major league level.”
This season, Miller has notched 26 saves in 41 games, including 54 strikeouts and a ERA of 2.20. It is no easy task to fill the void created by the retirement of future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera.
Along the way, numerous coaches and people have helped Andrew become the player he is today. “The list would be endless. I’ve been fortunate. For me personally, the biggest thing was just time, and getting more and more comfortable. There were certainly coaches who helped me work through stuff along the way. It would be unfair to list one person.“
How does he like living in New York? “It’s great,” notes Miller. “We live in the city. My wife loves it. She takes my son to the park pretty much every day. “ He adds, “there’s all sorts of culture, and food, and experiences to be had. Obviously, I spend a lot of time at the ballpark, so I don’t get to fully partake in a lot of it. It’s been a neat experience so far.“ The Millers spend the offseason in his native Florida.
When the conversation drifts back to his Tar Heel days, Andrew’s fondest memory is the 2006 run culminating in the College World Series. “Unfortunately, we didn’t come out on top. But, it was a pretty special experience to play out [in Omaha, Nebraska] there,” he recalls. “I don’t think we even dreamt of going that far. I think it was something that seemed unattainable, and for us to come together as a team, and play well, and make it that far was a huge accomplishment.” It had a lasting impression on Miller. “Some of the best friends I have in my life are guys that were on that team, and I think we all came together then. “
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