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Long Road For Shortstop

by Niki Paton
August 2, 2006 - Northern League (NL) - Joliet JackHammers

Shortstop Chad Hill may have been born on April fools day but he is no fool to the ups and downs it takes to live the life of a ballplayer.

Hill, in his fourth professional season, began his passion for baseball accompanying his father on weekend trips to play softball where his father's teammates would pitch to him.

Hill played on small town teams in North Carolina winning tournaments, playing in leagues and in all stars. Hill played on his first organized team at five years old. Hill's Babe Ruth Little League team even made it to the North Carolina state tournament.

"When we were in Babe Ruth Little League we won the state and then we finished runner up in South East Regional's," said Hill. "We were one game away from going to the World Series. It was pretty cool."

Hill's father influenced his hitting growing up. While working with him on the weekends encouraging Hill to work hard playing baseball before lunch on Saturdays and after church on Sundays.

"He'd hit me a thousand ground balls it seemed like," said Hill. "Then he'd pitch to me, it was good, he was very active. He said, work hard, get your stuff in, come prepared. If you don't get the job done, it's just because it just didn't happen. Don't look back and say well I wasn't prepared and that's the reason. I guess preparation is a big part of him helping me."

Hill continued to play baseball in high school on Varsity all four years before moving on to play in college. Hill was a shortstop for the Indians baseball team at Catawba College of Salisbury, Carolina after receiving athletic and academic scholarships.

"I played third base my freshman year and then shortstop my last three years," said Hill.

Hill's professional career has included playing for the Northern League Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2003, the Kansas City T-Bones from 2004-2005, Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League in 2006 and recently as a shortstop for the Northern League Joliet JackHammers. Hill would like to one-day play affiliated ball.

"I'd love to get picked up by an affiliated team. I'm getting a little older now so the idea of getting picked up is getting slimmer by the day," said Hill. "I'm still having fun, still getting paid and enjoying it while I can."

Life as a ballplayer is not a normal nine-to-five job, more like a two-to-ten. Daily conditioning workouts, batting practices and pre-game routines take hours and account for a great deal of the work players do in preparation for a game. Hill's regime includes batting practice, working out and trying to get warmed up and stretched out to handle his position as shortstop.

"Being middle infield gets a little more action. So I'm a bit more sore the next day," said Hill. "I try to get some early work in on hitting and take a few extra ground balls and try to get ready for the game."

In the Northern League, as in other independent ball and affiliated ball preparation includes a great deal of travel. Most teams travel on chartered buses for as many as seventeen hours to get to their destination for a game. Although the idea of traveling on a chartered bus to play baseball across the country sounds luxurious, it does have a few drawbacks, especially if you are a rookie sharing the seat next to you or tall and trying to sleep in cramped seat space.

"I'm tall and the seats are short. I've slept on the floor before. That's great sleeping until you wake up and feel like you can't move," said Hill. "Probably trying to get comfortable to fall asleep is the worst part of the trip."

Hill is no stranger to the other physical tolls baseball takes on a ball player's body. Hill has received a number of injuries over the years. In 2004, Hill broke a bone in his foot while playing with the Kansas City T-Bones but was able to continue to play on it and finish an incredibly memorable season in which Hill, with Kansas City teammates, went to the 2004 Northern League playoffs.

"We struggled early on and it was just like we had good leaders and good veteran guys (Paton: Eddie Pearson), Rick Prieto, Ray Brown Greg Bricknell they showed me a lot," said Hill. "They were on the field coaches. We started winning and you know it's always great when you're winning. I had a blast that summer."

In 2005, Hill suffered another injury this time to his arm which would require surgery and was unable to finish the season with Kansas City. Hill came back to baseball for the 2006 season feeling healthy and ready to get back into the game full swing. Unfortunately the season was shortened for Hill once again after a recent partial tear to a ligament in his left wrist ending his 2006 season with the Joliet JackHammers.

Although it has been a long road, Hill is still out there pursuing his dreams. In the offseason Hill has coached basketball, women's cross-country and had the opportunity to hold a position as a full time strength and conditioning coach. Hill will spend the rest of this 2006 season coaching women's high school basketball, baseball and teaching while rehabilitating from his wrist injury.

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