Traded to a Team that Didn’t Exist: The Bill Miller Story

Bill Miller doing a bulgarian split squat in the weight room

Bill Miller made his professional debut for the Joliet Slammers of the Frontier League in the spring of 2015. He played a couple of weeks before the team cut him – part his fault, part lousy fortune.

Bill bounced around with a couple of semi-pro and independent teams over the next year until the Rockland Boulders traded him to a team he can’t remember the name of.

He has no reason to remember the name.

The team didn’t exist.

Bill found this out the hard way.

He drove “somewhere out in New York or Pennsylvania” (Bill doesn’t remember exactly) and met up with a group of guys at a local field who were all ready for their first day of practice.

There was just one problem: no managers, coaches, or front office people were present.

After a couple of hours, a local fellow walked over to the group of players and asked what they were doing.

“We’re here for the professional baseball team,” they quipped.

“Oh, I haven’t heard anything about that,” the local tried to speak the truth while not crushing the spirits of the boys.

an overhead shot of an all dirt baseball field

Very confused, the team went out to dinner and tried to figure out what was going on.

Assembled around the local fast food joint’s tables, they finally accepted the truth.

There was no team. There would be no season. They had to leave.

Just like everything in his life, Bill took this in stride. He accepted it for what it was and sought to be real with what was going on.

Sitting in a motel in small-town Ohio, Bill saw the writing on the wall of his professional career.

For the first time, it was apparent that his professional baseball career was drawing to a close.

“I had put in all this work into baseball and had driven halfway across the country to go play for this team that didn’t exist. I realized that my career was ending.”

He completed the drive back to Chicago and started working with his older brother at Dream Big Athletics in Palatine, IL. He also played baseball for a local semi-pro team during the summer to pass the time.

He finished that summer by playing two games for an independent team that needed a fill-in. But Bill knew that his time in baseball was coming to a close.

He now faced the challenge of moving into life after baseball.

With family connections in professional baseball, Bill faced a decision. He could go into analytics and start building his career there, or he could go into what fired him up as a player, player development.

He chose the latter.

When I asked about his transition out of playing and into coaching, he said that it was somewhat difficult but that he felt that he had handled it very well.

I would agree.

After hearing Bill’s story of moving on from sports, I identified four main takeaways for every current and former athlete.

  1. Prioritize personal autonomy.
  2. Find a way to challenge yourself every day.
  3. Develop enjoyment for your physical training.
  4. Mindless activities are essential to enjoying life.

1. Prioritize Personal Autonomy

Bill loved the autonomy he had as a ballplayer at Trinity Christian College. In his words, the challenge of improving was “invigorating” and caused him to pull together all of the available resources to eke out every last bit of performance he had within him.

Now as a former athlete, Bill is passionate about keeping a strong sense of personal autonomy in his daily life. He realizes the importance of being the primary decision-maker in his life and does all he can to maintain his freedoms.

2. Challenge Yourself Each Day

Bill outlined a practice of his that he goes through nearly every day. It’s brilliant, and I believe it’s a vital practice for anyone seeking to move on from sports and upgrade their life.

I asked Bill if he is adequately challenged in life. His response blew me away in its profound simplicity.

To paraphrase:

“Physically, no, I’m not challenged like I used to. (Bill trains very hard today – We’ll talk more about that later). But I challenge myself mentally each day at a high level.”

Each day, Bill has a goal when he wakes up. He may have 5, 10, or 20 tasks that he has to complete, but he has one that reigns supreme in his mind.

Bill Miller challenges himself to learn something new each day.

Okay, great. We should all try to learn something new each day, right?

What separates Bill from many others is the manner in which he goes about learning a new thought or skill.

Bill leverages the connectedness of social media to spark up conversations with “smart people”. His goal is to “get on the same level” as them.

a silhouette of hands and a smartphone

For example, he’ll challenge himself to connect with someone far wiser than he in the strength and conditioning world and engage with them in a conversation that surpasses his current level of understanding.

Recently, this led to Bill connecting with a world-renowned coach and speaking with him on Skype for two hours.

Daily challenges like this can come in many forms:

  • Read a book that is beyond your current comprehension level
  • Try to synthesize ideas from two seemingly distinct disciplines
  • Challenge yourself to connect with someone you admire but have no connection with
  • Teach yourself a new skill through the help of online courses

There are limitless ways you can challenge yourself each day. The important thing is that you do it.

Challenge completed.

3. Train Because You Enjoy It

Physical wellness is important.

You know this. I know this. Bill knows it.

I asked Bill how he trains today, and his answer took me by surprise.

“I train like a baseball player because I enjoy it.”

Hm, that’s interesting.

I know a few athletes – myself included – who have gotten away from training as a baseball player in their life after sports and started to look for something more “normal”.

We should become bodybuilders, powerlifters, or just general fitness aficionados.

Not Bill Miller.

He admits that training without a goal is difficult and that this causes him to struggle with the why behind training from time-to-time.

I think that the lesson in this is that our reason for training needs to be meaningful to us.

Bill is done trying to play professional baseball.

But, he continues to train as a baseball player because he enjoys it.

Maybe that lesson is for you. Perhaps you liked training so much but feel that you need to stop training like a baseball player so you can prove to everyone that you’re entirely done with the sport.

Here are a few questions for you:

  • What if distancing yourself from the sport is stopping you from moving on to the next thing in life?
  • How can you leverage training to advance your life instead of making you feel guilty for everything you’re not doing?
  • How would you train if you were the only person left on earth?

4. Disengage Your Mind

Bill, if you’re reading this, I used to think you were weird.

And to be honest, I think you are okay with that.

Bill has an affinity for Sonic the Hedgehog, anime, and plenty of other cartoons.

But the reason for this isn’t that he’s a pre-teen caught in a 28-year old’s body. No, Bill has all of these things in his life for a purpose.

When I asked Bill what he believed to be the primary keys to moving on, he first mentioned the importance of daily goals (See point #2). But he also talked with me about the value of mindless activities.

Bill thinks that everyone needs to turn their brain off and enjoy seemingly pointless things. He spends time watching funny videos, reading articles, and perusing meme boards. As a result, he enjoys his days and gets out of his head.

Amazingly, there’s another benefit. Anecdotally, disengaging your mind can enhance the work you do.

Your mindless activity might not be creating Snapchat masterpieces of Sonic and Tails, nor scrolling through dank memes on Instagram. Instead, you might choose to read fiction, cook an elaborate meal, or surf YouTube to find the best video ever.

You’re welcome.

No matter what you choose to do, a crucial component in living well is practicing the discipline of disengaging your mind for some time each day or week. We can’t go-go-go all the time. We need to find time to take a step back and relax our bodies and minds.

How to Connect with Bill

It would have been easy for Bill to be angry with the world after the misfortune of being traded to a team that didn’t exist. Instead, he humbly accepted it as an event in his life and didn’t let it wreck his identity.

He’s channeled his energy, passion, and discipline exhibited during his playing career into his life as a trainer, and he is raising some monsters.

If you want to find out more about Bill, you can find him on Twitter and Instagram. He regularly engages with anyone who contacts him, and I know you’ll be glad you did.