Part of the beauty of baseball is that, even against all odds, anybody can be a hero, if only for a day.

That was the case on Sunday as Alec Mills of the Chicago Cubs completed his unlikely journey into MLB’s history books. Mills, who was once told he was not good enough to play college baseball, threw the 16th no-hitter for one of the most historic franchises in the world. He shut down the Milwaukee Brewers on the road in what was also the second no-hitter ever thrown in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, and oddly enough, the second by a Cub. On September 14, 2008, almost 12 years ago to the day, Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs threw a no-hitter against the Houston Astros. A game that was played in Miller Park due to the threat of Hurricane Ike.

Going into this season, if you had to pick one guy who you thought would throw a no-hitter, Mill’s would not only have been your last pick on the Cubs, he likely would have been your last pick in the whole league. That is not a knock towards Mills, it’s just that his style of pitching is quite literally geared to induce contact. Weak contact, but still contact. Guys like him, even in their most beautifully pitched games, don’t usually come near no-hitters. Not due to lack of skill, but because their game plans always count on contact. He follows the mold of staff mate Kyle Hendricks, and knows he can’t overpower anyone, so he relies on location and gets creative with pitch selection to try and keep batters on their heels, as evidenced by his mere five strike outs in route to his no-hit masterpiece. He only generated five swings and misses the entire game, which tied Dallas Braden from 2010 for the fewest in a solo no-hitter over the past 30 years (ESPN).

“I don’t really know what to say,” Mills said. “I think it’s kind of hit me now – it’s very overwhelming. A once in a lifetime type of thing. And I’ll always remember it and just look back and be thankful.”

His shortstop, Javy Baez, who could be heard screaming in celebration while he was still making the play on a ground ball up the middle to record the final out, said afterwards, “I just wanted the ball hit to me. This is something we’ll be a part of for life. Like a championship type thing. No one can take it from you. I was happy to be part of it.”

Every no-hitter is special, as it is a feat that has been accomplished by very few at the highest level, but the journey Mills took to get here makes it even more so. He wasn’t recruited much at all out of high school and had to walk on at UT-Martin after walking by a practice one day and telling the coach he was good enough to pitch for the team. He then wasn’t thought of as a major league prospect coming out of college and wasn’t taken until the 22nd-round by the Kansas City Royals in 2012. He never came close to cracking a Top 100 prospect list while in the minors and was even cut by the Royals. After finally establishing a role on a major league roster with the Cubs last year, Mill’s wasn’t even slated to be in the starting rotation for them this year. He made a role for himself as a swingman in 2019, and that was expected to continue into 2020 as well, but after an unusual thumb injury to José Quintana, he was asked to take over as the team’s #5 starter. When asked if even he saw this coming Mills simply said, “At a young age, it was just ‘I want to pitch in the big leagues’, I don’t think you ever think about no-hitters or things like that. It’s something I never would have imagined in my life.”

You can’t help but feel elated for a guy that has endured so much to finally get to this mountain top. He was told he wasn’t good enough over, and over, and over in his career, but he didn’t give up on his dream. It was his dream, and nobody could take it away from him. It’s clear he’s important to his teammates as well. Jason Heyward, 5x Gold Glove Award winner, was given the option to come out of the blow-out win early by manager David Ross, but asked Ross to keep him in until the end. He wanted to be there for Mills.

“I’m just proud to be able to be that person who can tell you to never give up, never stop playing, never let people tell you what you can and can’t do, to just keep persevering and be the best person you can be”, said Mills.

How can you not be romantic about baseball?

Photo Credit: Tannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock

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