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07/02/08 6:50 PM ET

Miller kicks off 'Reading with the Rays'

Inaugural event fosters a love of reading among children

ST. PETERSBURG -- The overflow of cars in the parking lot signified that it was no ordinary Wednesday morning at the St. Petersburg Library. In fact, library patrons were asked to use the Salvation Army spaces across the street to help accommodate the large crowd.

It was a problem that Pinellas Public Library Cooperative Paula Godfrey was more than happy to deal with, as pitcher Trever Miller was on hand to help kick off the "Reading with the Rays" program.

"They told me 20 to 30 kids, and we got 120," Miller said incredulously. "It's great for the community. They are onboard, and the kids are interested in reading. I think if you asked them, they wouldn't be able to tell you why it's important per se, but subconsciously, they know they are in a society where everything around them has words in it and information."

The pitcher conveyed that message by not only reading to the group but by encouraging book discussions and challenging the youngsters to think about the storylines.

"He's a role model, not just for the kids but for their parents," Godfrey said of Miller. "He's able to talk to them about reading and get them excited."

Among those parents impressed by Miller was Jessica Vogl, a St. Petersburg resident who brought her two sons, Austin and Jacob, to the event.

"I told [Miller], 'Thank you so much for doing this,' " Vogl said. "That was really awesome for him to do this. [The kids] need famous people, celebrities up there encouraging them to do good things. It makes it pretty cool."

Vogl's boys -- both clad in matching Carl Crawford shirts -- are avid baseball players, and Austin is old enough to participate in "Reading with the Rays."

The idea behind the program -- which is in its inaugural year -- is to encourage children to "round the bases" with books. Three hours of summer reading puts participants on first base, and they progress from there. Once they have made it to home plate, they are enrolled in a chance to win tickets to a Rays' game.

"You have to be literate to survive in this world," Miller said. "So we are helping them on their way, and hopefully, they will do the same thing when it's their time."

The program will continue throughout the summer in libraries throughout Pinellas County. Designated hitter Cliff Floyd is expected to read at the next player appearance, which will take place later this month.

After reading, Miller stayed to sign countless autographs and take pictures, while kids of all ages could be heard asking their parents to check out some books.

It is a feeling that Miller, who is a proud father himself, certainly appreciates.

"I love reading to kids," he said, lamenting that his own children are old enough to read on their own.

"You see their eyes light up with some of the simplest stories you are going to read. They think it's the biggest thing in the world, so it helps you be a kid again. I kind of miss being that kid, to be honest with you."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.