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Rich Hill enters 20th season at helm of Torero Baseball
Feb. 12, 2018

USD baseball coach Rich Hill, a man who loves the ocean nearly as much as his starting pitcher working a late-inning shutout, sits in his Fowler Park office six days before the Toreros’ season opener. His favorite break is Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach. The man owns three stand-up paddleboards and five surfboards.

Mounted on the wall to his right is a big, beautiful, glossy stand-up board decorated in USD colors.

On the wall in front of him above a TV is a fading, gray smaller surfboard.

“That one never moves,” says Hill.

The board is scribbled with hundreds of signatures. It’s Hill’s goal that every athlete or coach who ever played or worked with him signs the board. He asked National League MVP Kris Bryant, USD’s most famous baseball alum, to sign it twice.

“In case one faded,” said Hill.

There may not be another Kris Bryant on the 2018 Toreros, who open the season at home Friday against the University of Cincinnati. But as is USD’s tradition, this team is talented and likely to win many games.

It is a team loaded with starting pitching.

Regarding left-handers Nick Sprengel and Chris Murphy, plus right-handed Paul Richan, Hill said, “Our weekend rotation is as good as anybody you’ll find in any conference. I think we have three aces.”

Three infielders return. Super utility man Jay Schuyler is back after leading USD in batting average (.352) and hits (75). With Riley Adams and Roman Garcia departed after hitting 27 home runs and knocking in 100 runs, one wonders who’ll deliver the power.

 

 

But a head coach can’t be blessed with everything, can he?

In all likelihood, Hill will be blessed with a special victory some time in 2018. Beginning his 31st season as a college head coach and 20th at USD, Hill totes a career record of 979 victories, 669 losses and four ties.

Just 21 more wins and he reaches 1,000.

“I haven’t really thought about what 1,000 wins mean,” said Hill. “I’m so immersed in the present moment. Today, I’m thinking about our inner-squad scrimmage, our starting pitching, our bullpen, who plays against a lefty. I haven’t really reflected on that much.”

Quickly, he reflects.

“It’s a little surreal because I feel like I’m in my late 20s,” he said. “I’m surfing, I’m paddling. I’m around young people all the time. When you hear those numbers – 30 seasons, 1,000 wins – wow, how did I get there?

“I think what 1,000 wins means, not just for me, for anybody, it kind of blares perseverance and persistence. The other thing that it says is adaptation.”

Hill does not think the young men who play baseball at the college level have changed much in three decades.

“Maybe that’s because in this USD environment we get the cream of the crop,” he said.

He does feel the way coaches treat athletes has changed.

“That gruff, distant relationship that maybe existed when I first started really cannot exist now,” he said. “I’ve come 180 from that standpoint to really focus on relationships first. Maybe that’s just because of fatherhood and my relationship with my kids.”

Hill has a son and daughter, both in their 20s.

As for his program, he is most proud of its consistency. USD opens 2018 ranked 31st in the nation by Collegiate Baseball, marking the 12th straight season the Toreros have been nationally ranked.

“Over a sustained period,” he said, “that’s pretty remarkable.”

As mentioned, starting pitching is the on-paper strength. Sprengel posted a 9-1 record last season with a 3.29 ERA. Indicating he can bring the fastball, Murphy struck out 89 batters in 69 innings. Richan recorded a 5-2 record with a 3.05 ERA.

In a preseason poll, USD was picked to finish second in the WCC behind BYU.

As is Hill’s preference, the schedule is challenging. From Baseball America’s preseason Top 25included on USD’s slate is No. 2 Oregon State, No. 4 Arkansas, No. 11 Cal State Fullerton and No. 20 Indiana.

Hill lists multiple reasons for scheduling tough. It builds the Toreros’ RPI, prepares the team for WCC play, plus, “Maybe the bottom line,” he said, “it’s just more fun.”

For all his success at USD, one goal has escaped his reach. The Toreros have not advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. When you step into the Toreros’ office down the third-base line at Fowler Park, mounted on the wall to the right is a TV screen.

Frozen on the screen is a picture of the College World Series’ TD Ameritrade Park Omaha ballpark. At the bottom of the screen is the third-base dugout, the top of the dugout colored USD baby blue. The words College World Series is printed in block letters atop the dugout.

How important, Hill is asked, is to reach Omaha?

A philosophical man, Hill says he does not want to meet Captain Ahab’s fate. In Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” Captain Ahab tragically becomes obsessed in exacting revenge with the whale.

“You don’t want things to get clouded along the way,” he said. “I step back, practice what I preach. Everything is about the controllables and the process.”

He paused for a moment, mentioned Omaha, then added, “That is the vision and we have a relentless approach to achieving that.”

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