ASHEBORO — A lifelong college baseball fan, Asheboro resident George Miller has been was watching intently as the College World Series began last week in Omaha, Neb.
There’s a good reason for that. Miller was on the very first Wake Forest varsity baseball team to win the College World Series when the Deacons won the 1955 championship, becoming also the first team in North Carolina to win a NCAA national title of any kind.
Now, for the first time since 1955, the Deacons have returned to the pinnacle of college baseball, spending most of this season as the top ranked team in the country. The Deacons began play Saturday afternoon in this year’s World Series with a game against Stanford in the eight-team double-elimination tournament.
Though Miller, 88, has very little difficulty reliving the 1955 season, the Deacons advancing to play in just their third World Series of all-time makes the memories a little more vivid. Wake had also advanced to the College World Series once before, finishing as runner up to Texas in 1949.
“‘I’m very proud of them, but if we would have had aluminum bats, we would have knocked every one out of the ballpark,” Miller said a few days before the start of the tournament. “We had wood bats and played at the old stadium and it was a much bigger field than the one they got now.”
College baseball was quite different in those days. The Deacons won the ACC championship with a 10-3 record and were invited to play in the District 3 Tournament along with West Virginia and Rollins (Florida), which received a bye in the first round of the best-of-three format.
Wake headed to West Virginia, where the Deacons won Game 1 by the score of 5-1, lost Game 2 (9-7) and then won the third and deciding game 6-5. The Deacons then swept Rollins 4-0 and 6-2 to punch their ticket to Omaha, Nebraska.
The 1955 World Series was held in the old stadium in Omaha and lasted from June 10-16. That’s when the fun really began.
Lightning storms forced the team’s plane to take a different route to Nebraska, and by the time the Demon Deacons arrived on Thursday night, five hours later than expected, they had missed a much-anticipated steak dinner. Remember, this was 1955.
And they were without three-sport star and their pitching ace Lowell “Lefty” Davis.
“Our best pitcher had to fly out separately to Omaha because he had to go to summer school,” Miller said. “He played basketball and was probably the best player, but the school said he had to go to summer school (to become eligible for basketball).”
School officials allowed Davis to take a later flight as long as he was back in time to attend classes on Monday.
Sophomore right-hander Jack McGinley started Wake Forest’s Friday morning opener against Colgate and despite getting just two hits in the contest, the Deacons pulled out a 1-0 win. McGinley surrendered just four hits as the Deacs were off and running, despite an hour-long hail and rain delay in the sixth inning.
Rain postponed all of Saturday’s scheduled games, pushing Wake Forest’s second game against Colorado State College, which stunned favored Southern California, 2-1, in its opener, to Sunday night.
The news that Wake Forest, which was founded by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as the Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute in 1834, would play on Sunday was not well received by religious leaders in North Carolina.
There were arguments, debates and protests on if the Deacons should even play on a Sunday.
Davis made the most of his brief stay in Omaha as he allowed just four hits in a 10-0 win over Colorado State. Cleanup hitter Tommy Cole, who hit a team-leading seven home runs in 1955, was injured in the win and that opened the door for Miller to take his place in that game and start every game from that point on.
During that game after he was inserted into right field, he made an incredible catch that helped save the shutout.
“I wish they had TV back then so I could have seen what I did,” Miller said with a chuckle. “There was no way of recording it back then. People say it was a great catch.”
Wake Forest lost to Western Michigan 9-0 before rebounding for a 10-7 win over Western Michigan, a 2-0 win over Oklahoma A&M and a championship-clinching 7-6 win over Western Michigan.
With two outs in the ninth, Miller remembers the final play of the game.
“I was playing right field and the ball was hit to the third baseman and the pitcher at the time says now all he could think of was throw it to first, throw it to first, throw it to first,” Miller said. “He fired it to first and everyone ran to the mound like they do now and had a big pile on.
“To me, I wasn’t scared when I was out there,” Miller said. “It was just another ballgame. We had a good team. We had all grown up playing ball in the yards and fields, wherever. Those were good memories. I was in the right place at the right time. I got some hits, but not as many as I wanted.”
For winning the national championship, each player and coach received a tie clip. The Team finished 29-7 overall.
“When we won the national championship, we got a tie (clip), a trophy and a plaque,” said Miller, who was a walk-on at the time but received a full scholarship the next year. “We didn’t get anything like they get today. The alumni in Kinston the next year gave us watches and maybe it was the year 2000 when the school gave us rings.”
The Deacons won the title despite losing seven coin flips prior to the games, meaning it was the visiting team each and every game.
But the fun wasn’t over for Miller and his roommate in Omaha just yet.
“When we left the ballpark, we rode a bus back to town because we were staying in a hotel in downtown Omaha,” Miller said. “When we were riding back after just winning the World Series, we saw two girls in the car next to us and I rolled down the window and asked if they wanted a date and they did, so to me, that was as big of a thrill as winning the College World Series.”
After a “nice” night out, Miller and his roommate awoke the next morning and went down to the lobby, only to discover the team had already left for the airport.
“They had left us, they didn’t even know we were missing,” Miller said. “I got a taxi to take us there and at that time, the plane was on the tarmac and everyone was loading the plane. We didn’t have enough money for the taxi ride so we just threw what we had down on the seat and took off. They still didn’t miss us.
“When we were flying back, the pilot came on and said there were 500 people waiting for us at the Raleigh airport,” Miller said. “And that’s when it first hit me that we won the World Series.
“The next year, we had NCAA national champion patches on our sleeves and we finished fourth in the conference,” Miller said. “At that time, you weren’t allowed to play varsity as a freshman, so it was my second year and I was one of six sophomores on that team that won it. You would think after winning it with so many sophomores that we would have done it again after that, but you didn’t play that many games and if you lost a couple, you didn’t go.”
Miller, who grew up in Burlington and moved to Siler City right before attending Wake Forest, moved to Asheboro in 1960. He lived in Manteo from 1999 until 2005 but returned to Asheboro.
Since Wake’s championship season, only one other ACC team, Virginia in 2015, has claimed a College World Series title.
Miller said he is unsure of how many players from that 1955 championship squad are still living. They haven’t had a “get-together” in quite a while. But they all share a special bond, a bond that can only be achieved by winning a national championship.