Standing 15 steps away from an entrance onto Wrigley Field, Paige Miller stared at the iconic field in awe.
The Wheaton Warrenville South junior forward arrived well before Sunday’s Chicago Cubs’ game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The journey, from her seats to the field, was not an easy one. Earlier this year, Miller had suffered a lower leg injury that required surgery.
With a cast on her left ankle, Miller supported herself with crutches at Wrigley Field. As she stared at the wet concrete steps, Miller assumed she was attending the game to support her dad, Dave Miller.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Paige Miller said. “I thought I was totally here for my dad. I was in shock. My dad is part of the companies that were presenting today, so I totally thought we were coming down to honor him. I was so excited for him.”
Minutes later, Miller and her family were brought to the field, but instead of her father being honored before the game, Paige Miller and Elgin St. Edward senior AJ Franklin were each awarded the 2017-18 PepsiCo Showdown MVP belt.
Chicago Cubs pitcher Luke Farrell presented Miller and Franklin with their own MVP belts in a brief ceremony on the field.
Miller and Franklin earned the prestigious annual honor in a process that covered over 5,000 kids and 200 high schools from throughout the country. Miller, a Northwestern recruit, scored 13 goals and compiled 11 assists this season. For her career, Miller has 44 goals and 22 assists.
“It’s awesome and I’m so happy and totally surprised and really thankful,” Miller said. “I had no idea even coming down the steps what was going on. I was told an entirely different story, and still thought it was true after all this. Wow, this is so cool. I guess I’m really gullible.”
Dave Miller kept the surprise from his daughter for nearly a month. He even practiced soft tosses numerous days leading up to the game.
“We did the whole bit,” Dave Miller said. “I had to play the nervous part.”
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Guy Callipari also attended Sunday’s game, which didn’t provide a clue to Miller about his presence.
“It was pretty difficult to keep this from Paige,” Callipari said. “But they came up with a great storyline and right until the last second, she believed her dad was going to throw out the first pitch, even with me right beside her discussing the whole thing,”
Miller said her family quizzed her about the names of several Cubs’ players, in hopes of increasing her knowledge of the team. During the on-the-field ceremony, Miller and Franklin were interviewed by several television stations and chatted with Farrell. Miller said Farrell told her about their common bond: Farrell attended Northwestern.
“We talked about Northwestern,” she said. “He was so nice and cool. I never met anybody famous. I’m so thankful for this experience.”
Callipari said Miller and her family will remember Sunday’s surprise ceremony for the rest their lives.
“It’s a great honor for her,” he said. “She has a great spirit, is a great player and has a really good skill set. She means a lot to our program and just a wonderful honor for her. What a great day for her and her family.”