ARLINGTON — In March, Perry Hill turned 67. A 2014 Paris Junior College Dragons Hall of Fame inductee, Hill is the first base/infield coach for Seattle who has spent most of his life in baseball and continues to love teaching the game to the next generation.
“It’s enabled me to play instead of work. I don’t consider this work,” Hill said during the Mariners’ two-game series against the Rangers at Globe Life Park on July 30 and 31. “It’s a passion. I’m fortunate to be where I am. I’ve had a lot of people help me along the way. There’s an old saying you’d rather be lucky than good, and I’ve been really lucky to be around good baseball people who have taught me a lot and good players who make coaches look good.”
Highlighting that list of players who have made him look good are the seven Gold Glove award winners he’s worked with during his long tenure in pro baseball, a list of five different players including Luis Castillo who won three straight Gold Gloves with the Marlins between 2003 and 2005.
But the humble Hill, an infielder by trade, defers all that credit for those awards to where he feels it belongs, to the players. “Well, they were good or they wouldn’t have even had the chance to win a Gold Glove anyway,” he said. “It was a rewarding experience for all involved. They were great kids all with good work ethics. A lot of those guys were on our World Series team in 2003 with the Marlins. It was a good chapter. It’s nice to get that kind of recognition, but you got to remember that the players actually field the ball and threw the ball.”
He also realizes that were it not for the two seasons he spent at Paris (1971-1972), he might not currently be in his 24th season as a big-league coach and first with the Mariners. “It was a long time ago,” Hill said. “Yeah, we played at old City Park and had to get in our cars to work out. I guess the field’s on campus now? We didn’t have that. It was a lot different. I remember Jim Whitworth was the coach. He gave us all a chance to play and further our careers.”
And after two solid seasons with the Dragons, he was able to transfer on to Texas-Pan American, now known as Texas Rio Grande Valley, to finish his collegiate career and then move into playing at the professional level.
But were it not for those two seasons in Paris, he likely would never been in position to finish his college career at a four-year school. “Well, when I went to junior college, I got to play right away. Maybe if I had gone to a four-year school or something I might have sat for a year or something,” Hill said. “It was really important to me just to have a chance to play. That’s the best teacher. You can have all the coaching, but the best teacher is playing, playing experience. The more you play, the better you get.”
Hill then played six seasons of pro ball, hitting the diamond stateside and in Mexico, racking up 622 games before retiring as a player after the 1983 season. His first foray into coaching came in 1984 with Tri-Cities (Washington), then the Short Season Single-A affiliate of the Rangers.
He worked as a coach and a roving infield instructor for the Rangers through 1997, when he got his first big-league coaching job with Detroit. He’s since coached for the Expos, Marlins and Pirates before landing with Seattle last winter. He also feels that his two trips to Japan to work with the Chunichi Dragons in the 1990s helped make him an even more well-rounded teacher of the game.
Everywhere he’s coached, players who’ve worked with him say the same thing-he’s passionate about the game and playing the infield, someone gifted at teaching them the nuances of becoming a better defender.
“He’s great. You don’t really find many people that are as enthusiastic and care that much about infield as he does,” Seattle first baseman Ryan Vogelbach said. “He’s really passionate about it and it really rubs off on us. I think it’s truly shown this year with how much improvement that we’ve made in the infield. There’s something to be said for a guy that sticks in the big leagues as long as he has. He’s very well respected. He brings great energy every single day. You never know if he’s having a bad day. He always wants the best for you. Those are the types of people you want to surround yourself with.”
But instructing infielders like Vogelbach and then seeing them apply what they’ve learned between the lines remains the ultimate reward for a true baseball lifer like Perry Hill and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s watching guys get better. There’s just as much teaching at this level as there is in the minor leagues if not more,” Hill said. “There’s a lot of repetition and sometimes you got to grind through it, but it’s really cool when the guy gets it, when you see all that work that he’s done transfers out on the field. It’s a really rewarding experience.”