Alpharetta, Ga., is a leafy, affluent community north of Atlanta. The median family income, according to the 2010 census, is over $110,000. The population is 72 percent white, 11.2 percent African-American.
Former big league pitcher Paul Byrd lives there.Men’s Majestic Toronto Blue Jays 10 Edwin Encarnacion Authentic Canada Day Jersey Red
McDonough, Ga., lies south of Atlanta. Counting the adjacent unincorporated areas, there are about 30,000 people, 34.3 percent African-American. The median family income is less than $47,000 and 12.8 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.
Tarez Miller, an 18-year-old black kid, grew up in the projects there.
The two suburbs in this modern day tale of two cities are separated by some 55 miles of highway. Given the socioeconomic and cultural gap, it might as well be a thousand. And yet …
On May 16, Miller graduated with honors from Men’s Majestic Toronto Blue Jays 36 Drew Hutchison Authentic Canada Day Jersey Red Alpharetta’s exclusive King’s Ridge Christian School. Later that night, he played shortstop for the Tigers in the Class A private school championship finals as King’s Ridge defended its title. He has both academic and athletic scholarships to attend Georgia Southern beginning this fall.
It was a triumphant journey that required faith and determination and serendipity and the willingness of a lot of people to take a chance.
And baseball. It all started with, and wouldn’t have been possible without, baseball.
He loved baseball, so he started a travel team. His older son Grayson, who now plays at his alma mater, LSU, would be on it. He had no idea how life-changing that decision would be.
That first year he became aware of Tarez Miller, who played for a team called the Shamrocks. By the following season, 2010, the Shamrocks had disbanded and Tarez showed up to try out for Byrd’s Georgia Roadrunners. He was clearly good enough. He was also polite and always hustled. But Byrd had a practical concern. Tarez lived an hour and fifteen minutes away. There were regular practices. How would he make the commute?
“I inquired and said, ‘What about his family situation?'” Byrd said. “I started learning a little bit and I just heard that it was a tough situation. It was like the elephant in the room. Nobody wanted to talk about things too much and I knew something was wrong. But, man, what a great kid.”
The tipping point came at a team sleepover at Byrd’s house. He came down the next morning and found kids sprawled everywhere. On the floor. In chairs. On the couch. “Like a frat house,” he said with a Canada National Day laugh. But Tarez was missing. He had gone upstairs and crawled into a bed.
One of the players explained. Tarez didn’t have a bed at home. Byrd investigated further.
“I went down there to drop him off one day after practice and I saw the place he was living and staying,” Byrd said. “He had stayed with another family for three years. He wasn’t living with his mom and it wasn’t a good situation. And that broke our hearts.”
Byrd, a devout Christian, wanted to help. He was also aware of how vastly different their backgrounds were. They had almost nothing in common. Except for one thing.
“He was passionate about what I’m passionate about. He loved baseball,” Byrd said.
And that was enough. Tarez, he decided, should come and live with him and his family. It wouldn’t be easy and it wouldn’t be simple. He’d have to convince his wife, Kym. And Grayson. And their younger son, Colby. And Tarez. And, of course, his mother.
“This was not a mom who was absent from her son’s life,” Byrd stressed. “This was a mom who really cared about her son, but just had him at a young age and wasn’t able at that point of her life to give him opportunity. She had to take care of two other kids, she was going back to Toronto Blue Jays Canada Day Jersey school, she was trying to work a job.
“Still, when I talked to her about that, I think she thought I was crazy. She said, ‘I don’t even know you. Why would I let my son go stay with you? I don’t even know you.’ Like, ‘Why are you doing this?'”