On the morning of what was to be her most important high school softball game, Patrick Henry pitcher Amy Miner suffered a freak injury at home.
It was something strange that hits athletes considered durable: tripping down the stairs and breaking an ankle or slamming a finger in the car door . . .
Getting ready for Patrick Henry's San Diego Section 3-A playoff opener against Southwest last Saturday, Amy Miner collided with her mother, Maureen Miner, while making a blind turn into the bathroom.
Amy felt the little toe on her left foot crunch into her mom's ankle. Maureen heard a snap. Amy felt a numbness, followed by a sharp pain. They both saw the little toe swell up immediately. Possibly a fracture; a sprain for sure.
Amy went to the game and pitched anyway. She threw a no-hitter.
Amy's father, Steve Miner, a top amateur athlete and successful high school coach, set the standard four years ago. He shattered the pinky finger of his right hand playing over-the-line.
Paramedics saw a bone sticking through flesh and advised him to go straight to the hospital. "Tape it up, I'm playing," he demanded. Later that day, his team won the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club men's open world championship.
"There's a certain tradition that I have to follow," Amy Miner said. "I feel that I have to sometimes prove myself . . . but that's something that I enjoy doing. I enjoy coming through in pressure situations. It's fun for me."
"If I was a terrible athlete," she said, "it wouldn't be good."
Tall and slender, she has a warm smile but a fire-and-ice demeanor on the field. She was raised on intensity.
As Patrick Henry (18-5-1) beat Southwest, 1-0, with a run in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday, Miner never showed any discomfort. At this point in the season, she won't allow distractions.
The Patriots are traditionally strong in softball, yet they haven't won a section title since 1977. This year might be their best shot in years.
Practically overnight, Amy Miner has become perhaps the county's best pitcher.
Her record is 18-5-1, but she has pitched no-hitters in four of her last seven games.
She has five shutouts in that span, not allowing an earned run until Tuesday's 2-1 victory against Grossmont. Her fifth no-hitter against Southwest tied a section record for most no-hitters in a season--Rancho Buena Vista's Audrey West and Jennifer Booker also achieved this mark.
She has seven no-hitters in her career. She needs one more to tie four others--including Booker and former Henry pitcher Donna Stiles--for most in a career.
Steve Miner, who coached Madison to a section title in 1986 and took three other teams to the final, is now assistant coach to John Ferguson at Henry. Amy wants a championship to call her own.
"I don't like to lose, and I don't like to be beaten by mistakes and errors," she said. "And I think it's hard sometimes, because I have seen better-level softball and my peers on the team haven't. I always try to take them to see other teams (her father's national runner-up men's open fast pitch team, the Vista Bombers). They're just not as into it. I respect that, but they don't understand how good they can be."
She is a taskmaster on the field, directing teammates, making sure they know what do at all times.
"I know what it takes," she said. "I want to be intense, but I try hard not to be pushy."
But being around dad for so long, it only makes sense that she would be.
Steve Miner was an average football and basketball player at Crawford High in the mid-1960s. He's a slender 5 feet 10 1/2 (Amy is 5-9), he became an outside wing on the San Diego State's rugby team for five years. He was also starting setter on SDSU's national champion men's volleyball team in 1968. He and his father, Bill Miner, race homing pigeons for prize money.
In 1988, at 40, he played on the first of two world champion over-the-line teams. And last year he rejoined the Vista Bombers, one of the best men's fast-pitch teams in the country, as coach and third baseman. The Bombers compete in the Western Softball Congress (an affiliate of the International Softball Congress), considered the highest brand of men's softball in the country. The Bombers lost to the Boulder (Colo.) Springers in a national championship game last year.
He coached a section champion football team at Clairemont High and a section champion softball team at Madison. But at 44, he says his own athletic agenda is unfinished business.
"I've had two goals," he said. "One, to win an OTL world title and, two, to win a national championship in softball. I'm halfway there."
Steve Miner has kept himself so active, he has never felt the urge to press his only child into sports. It happened naturally.
Said Maureen Miner, "Amy didn't look like she was going to be an athlete at all when she was little. But Steve didn't seem to care. He's been a coach for 20 years and he's had so many great athletes."
Amy Miner said she was "an OK Bobby Sox player" who pitched but didn't have an exceptional bat or glove. She was good enough, however, to become Henry's No. 1 pitcher as a freshman. She finished 9-9 her first year with one no-hitter. She was 15-6 as a sophomore with seven shutouts, another no-hitter and a 0.56 earned-run average.
Before this season, she was considered just one of many good pitchers in town. Chula Vista reached the section 3-A final last year with Monica Medina and Jennifer Martinez, Escondido is the favorite to repeat as 2-A champs with Marquessa Penrod and Jennifer Chambers. Granite Hills has Rebekah Kilpatrick, Monte Vista Casey Gregg, Christian Sarah Dawson, San Marcos Charlene Reyes, Mt. Miguel Natasha Sprague and Castle Park Gina Rutledge.
West at RBV, Jolie Oliver at Grossmont and Jennifer Ortiz at Mt. Carmel were top pitchers whose seasons were cut short for various reasons.
It wasn't until last summer, when Miner joined San Diego Power, a select 16-under team, that she emerged. She helped Power capture the American Fastpitch Assn. National Championship in Houston. Since then, her pitching game has come together rapidly.
She finished the 1992 regular season with a 0.60 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 235-19. She allowed only 13 earned runs in 22 games and averaged 1.5 strikeouts per inning in 151 1/3 innings. Arizona State and Fresno State, two national softball powers, have begun to recruit her.
Her fastball exceeds 60 m.p.h., and she's developing a deadly change-up that appears to stop in mid-air halfway to the plate. More importantly, she has learned to consistently hit spots with her rise and drop balls.
And she's beginning to remind Steve Miner of Steve Miner.
"Amy, for a high school athlete, is pretty intense," he said. "As an athlete, she's maturing into herself. Mentally, she's grown to expect a lot out of herself."
Other coaches are just now beginning to take notice.
"She tied us up in knots," said Geoff Hollenbeck, who replaced Steve Miner as Madison's coach and whose team was twice beaten by Amy Miner this season. "She almost no-hit us the second time we played her. I had to tell girls, many of whom are Amy's friends, not to be ashamed. She's the best pitcher in the county."
* Said Russ Snow, Vista Bomber pitcher and Escondido High assistant, "She's got much better mechanics now, and she's definitely got the potential to be the best. She's got the size and the tenacity. Steve hates to lose; that's rubbed off on her. She hates to lose, too."
* Said Cookie Sullivan, whose Granite Hills team beat Henry, 3-2, early in the year, "It seems like she's been around 163 years. You hope to face her on a bad day, that's all."
* Said Sheri Riley, whose Monte Vista team tied Henry, 1-1, in 10 innings, "I love Amy. She's a smart kid, a smart player. That get's you a long way."
* Said RBV Coach Ken Elderts, "When she's on the mound, she's in control. She's a competitor, and she comes from good lineage. She's got a great teacher in her father, but she's also coachable by others--which is a big plus."
How far the Patriots will advance in the playoffs is hard to tell. They swept through the City Eastern League with an 8-0 mark, winning only two games by one run. They beat Mira Mesa, 28-2 and 13-0, while other teams like Grossmont 3-A League co-champs Monte Vista (19-8-1) and Granite Hills (24-9-1), and Metro Conference champ Castle Park (16-8, eliminated in the first round) took their lumps in league.
"We've got a good, solid ballclub right now," Ferguson said. "You're not going to win the league without pitching, but we'd still be good without Amy. We're solid defensively and offensively, but she's got to be one of the best pitchers in the county. She's becoming a pitcher, rather than a thrower."
Five Patriot starters--Miner, center fielder Tara Harre, catcher Kathy Cloward, second baseman Jennifer Berry and outfielder Michelle Maynard--made first-team all-league. The other four starters--Chaundrissa Oyeshiku, Shannon Murphy, Brooke Peterson and Melissa Turley--are second-teamers.
But the Miners have been an overshadowing presence at Henry since Steve gave up his tenured position as athletic director, football coach and softball coach at Madison in 1990--partly to assist in Amy's success.
Both are happy he made the move, particularly after one confrontation: Steve, coaching powerhouse Madison in 1990, coached against his daughter for the first and only time on a softball field.
"It was pretty weird to sit out there as third base coach rooting for your hitters when your daughter is trying to get them out," he said. "Maureen didn't like that at all. But the decision (to leave Madison) had already been made."
Steve briefly considered having Amy play for him at Madison, but didn't want to separate her from her friends.
"I love him being my coach," Amy said. "That's real important to me that he came over (from Madison) and he puts in the time and effort, because I respect him so much as a player with his competitiveness. I think it's helped our team tremendously.
"And I really like the fact that he's gotten back into (playing) softball now that I'm older and can really enjoy the competition."
His demand for excellence--be it from an umpire, a teammate or athlete that he coaches--has lessened. But he still doesn't ask anything he wouldn't ask of himself, which, knowing his standards, can make being his daughter occasionally difficult.
"I don't like coming home with bad news for him," Amy Miner said. "He . . . can be . . . a stickler."
But when it comes to little things like broken toes, Amy Miner and Steve Miner are very much in harmony.
Even Maureen Miner, the mellow one of the three, offered, "If (the toe) becomes a problem, we'll just cut it off."