He preceded me by about five years, but former Free Press sports editor Todd Murray — who is now covering West Virginia University football — recently found about Delmont Miller passing away and wrote a column about it for the Morgantown Dominion Post.
Here it is (I’d provide a link, but the DP’s site is a paid site):
THE HEADLINE ON A FORMER employer’s Web site captured my attention right away. “Kinston’s best friend dies” Who could it be? Intrigued, I double clicked – and my heart sank. Kinston, N.C., lost a friend, and so did I. His name was Delmont Miller. He died of a massive heart attack just a few days before Halloween. Miller was 42.
Delmont, or “Dell” as I called him, was one of the more delightful characters I’ve had the privilege of meeting in nearly 20 years in the newspaper business. Delmont served for 22 years as the scoreboard operator at Grainger Stadium, where the Kinston Indians – Cleveland’s Class A Carolina League baseball team – play.
From 1990-’97, when the I helped cover the team for the Kinston Free Press, Delmont and I spent a lot of summer nights sitting by each other in the press box. We watched future stars Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Jaret Wright while munching on hot dogs and drinking a non-alcoholic beverage called Island Guava.
Delmont was a diminutive, happy-go-lucky guy who had no enemies. He greeted you by name and with a smile on his face. He was probably the most popular person in the ballpark.
It was always interesting to watch him make his way up to the press box. It took him forever because he was constantly stopping to shake hands and talk with the fans.
He took a lot of pride in his job as scoreboard operator. Many touted him as the best in the Carolina League. He was never late recording a ball, strike or out.
Delmont did his job and kept up a steady stream of conversation. Some of his signature phrases I find myself repeating to this day. He was best known for shouting out “Ham and cheese!” when an opposing batter reached first.
“Ham and cheese” was Delmontspeak for calling for a double play. I once wrote a story about his double-play call. A local diner picked up on it and named its ham and cheese sandwich after Delmont.
When something in a game surprised him, he was likely to exclaim, “Good God Almighty!” He had other sayings, some of which aren’t printable in a family publication.
As far as I knew, Delmont had no other employment. I envied him. He seemed to enjoy a stress-free life, far removed from the dissatisfied readers and cranky editors, players and coaches I dealt with on a daily basis.
I eventually learned his life wasn’t as rosy as I thought. One summer day in 1994, Delmont and I drove to nearby Zebulon, N.C., for a Carolina Mudcats Double A baseball game. As we drove home that night, Delmont turned to me and asked: “Todd, do you think I’m retarded?”
The question stunned me.
“What? No, man.”
He said people made fun of him, and he spent a lot of time in his room crying. Who knew? I didn’t know what to say. I do remember it got awful quiet in the car. I was thankful it was dark because I wouldn’t have wanted him to see my eyes welling up with tears.
I missed being in the press box with Delmont when I left Kinston. He was the first person I sought out when I returned for games. He never forgot me. I was going to go back this past summer, but I didn’t make it.
Sadly, I’ll never see Delmont in Grainger Stadium again. His funeral was held, fittingly enough, at the ballpark.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I’m thankful Delmont was part of my life. I know I’ll never forget him.
TODD MURRAY is a sports reporter for The Dominion Post. Write to him at tmurraydominionpost.com.
My take: Awesome column, Todd. A great tribute to a person everyone in Kinston loved.