CUNNINGHAM, Tenn. (BVM) — Montgomery Central baseball skipper Todd Dunn has seen a lot of things from his post in the Indians dugout over his 36 years in the position. He’s led his team to the Tennessee state championship tournament, has had a number of players continue on to the next level and has been able to mentor hundreds of kids in over three decades as both a teacher and coach. But one thing happened recently that Dunn had never gotten to witness before: one of his former players pitching a no-hitter in the MLB.
“Ranking it as far as excitement goes it’s right up there at the top,” the 36-year coaching veteran said of the game. “I don’t ever remember being more excited for a player.”
When the Chicago Cubs went up against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 13, not many were expecting Cubs starting pitcher Alec Mills to make much noise. Mills, a four-year MLB veteran, was making just his 15th career start in the matchup, but he would make it one for the history books. Mills delivered a no-hitter, the second of the 2020 season and only the 16th in franchise history, on 114 pitches with five strikeouts.
Mills, a 2009 graduate of Montgomery Central, was one of the best athletes during his time in Cunningham. As a three-sport athlete playing golf and basketball as well as baseball, Mills excelled with the Indians, becoming the school’s Male Athlete of the Year all four years he attended. While he was great in each of his athletic endeavors, Mills was at his best on the baseball diamond, specifically on the mound.
“He started playing with a baseball even before he could walk,” Alec’s father, Joe Mills, said. “He would always play catch or whiffle ball with his older brother Kyle and other neighborhood kids.”
“He’s kind of from a baseball family around here,” Dunn said. “As a freshman he was small, thin and kind of shy his freshman year. … He had dedication and he loved playing and loved playing for his school. … He enjoyed high school. I think he enjoyed things and worked hard.”
In one example of many showing Alec’s dedication to his high school team, Dunn explained that even a car fire couldn’t keep his ace from attending practice.
“We had a preseason workout and he was late which was very unlike him,” Dunn said. “A kid comes running up to me and says, ‘Hey Alec’s truck is on fire!’ And literally his truck caught on fire coming to practice. He was OK and everything and about 30 minutes later he showed up and he said, ‘Sorry I’m late. I had a problem.’”
Alec’s baseball career is one that both sports journalists and scriptwriters gush over. After his career with the Indians, Alec would attend the University of Tennessee at Martin. However, according to his dad, the former baseball star couldn’t resist the chance to return to the field.
“Since he didn’t receive many enticing offers, he decided to concentrate on his academics,” Joe said. “He never really got baseball out of his system though. He enjoyed the game so much that when he saw the team practicing one day, that strong urge to play came back.”
While at the university, Alec would earn a tryout for the school’s baseball team, making the roster as a walk-on reliever before eventually making his way to starter and certified ace of the club. The success came as no surprise to his former skipper.
“We knew he could pitch in college,” Dunn said. “He just got down there and missed it and decided he wanted to play and we told him the whole time he was good enough to do it.”
Over the course of his collegiate career, Alec would become one of the best players in Skyhawks history, finishing his career in the school’s top 10 in victories (13), innings pitched (192), appearances (67) and strikeouts (165). He also held the Skyhawks record for most appearances in a season (30) and second most strikeouts in a season (74) during his final year with the team. Alec would also be on the mound to win the program’s first-ever postseason victory as a Division I member, conceding just one earned run in 7.2 innings against Eastern Kentucky in the 2011 Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
With his performance, Alec became the first Ohio Valley Conference player drafted in the 2012 MLB Draft when he was selected in the 22nd round by the Kansas City Royals. The selection also made him the first player drafted in the MLB from Montgomery Central High School since the 1950s.
“We were very excited for him because this had always been his dream,” Joe said. “He never considered that being a 22nd round pick was a deterrent. And he played like he was as deserving as anyone on the team.”
Over the next four years, Mills would work his way through the minors with the Royals, overcoming Tommy John surgery in 2013. In 2016, Mills became the first University of Tennessee at Martin alumnus to appear in a Major League Baseball game when he debuted in relief for the Royals on May 18 against the Boston Red Sox.
On Feb. 8, 2017, Mills was acquired by the Cubs in a trade that sent minor league outfielder Donnie Dewees to the Royals. For the lifelong Cubs fan, the deal was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“Of course we were all devastated to learn that the Royals let him go, but when we found out he was picked up by the Cubs, we were all beyond happy because our family has always been Cubs fans,” Joe said. “When he was a little boy, if someone would ask him what he was going to do when he grew up, he would say, ‘I’m going to pitch for the Chicago Cubs.’ It’s like watching all his dreams come true and there is nothing more satisfying as a parent.”
Now, Mills will live on forever in Cubs lore.
The moment when the final out sealed Alec’s no-hitter will be a memory Dunn will cherish.
“It was like winning the World Series,” Dunn said. “It’s an overwhelming sense of pride and happiness for him and his family.”
For Alec’s parents, Joe and his wife, Patty, the moment was a special one and one the family will never soon forget.
“Our reaction was very emotional and we had to keep telling ourselves that it really happened,” Joe said. “Being so happy for your child is the most satisfying feeling ever as a parent. Alec seemed to still be in disbelief at first but he was very thankful for everyone that helped him and all the people who reached out to him after the game.”
Alec’s old community of Cunningham has been celebrating too.
“I’ve had several players text me when it happened and a lot of area coaches texting me,” Dunn said. “The next day of school I had dozens of kids come up. I work outside in the mornings and a few people dropping their kids off yelled to me about Alec. It’s a lot of support for him out here.”
The family has also noticed the attention and they are grateful and happy that their son can deservedly earn so much notoriety.
“It has been a whirlwind, but the best part is knowing how many people were rooting for him and all the love and support he has received,” Joe said. “It has been wonderful because he has worked so long and hard to get where he is now. We always believed in him and knew he was capable and deserving.”
Now that the dust has settled, just wanted to thank everyone who helped me along this crazy journey. I’m not done yet, I’ve got even more dreams to achieve! pic.twitter.com/FYhNcFzgqZ
— Alec Mills (@ATMills37) September 18, 2020
As Dunn prepares to enter his 36th year with the Indians, he will now have a person whom his players can look to emulate when they take the field each game. Not only because of his spectacular performance in one game, but rather his determination and self-confidence to even get to that point.
“He just had that mental toughness that I think helped him become what he is today,” Dunn said. “Going through all the injuries and being a walk-on at UT-Martin, that drive he has and that mental toughness has gotten him through all that to where he is today. … A lot of young men would quit with everything he went through, but he would always bounce back and seemed to bounce back stronger. That’s another reason why he’s successful. He had so much discipline and perseverance that he wouldn’t give up until he finally made it.”
Joe and Patty are also, understandably, excited for the future and know that this may just be the beginning of their son’s success.
“We would love for him to have a long and healthy career,” Joe said. “Fans should continue to see him do amazing things because he isn’t finished with what he wants to accomplish.”