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The Journey to 1,000
May 7, 2018

SAN DIEGO - Raised in Saratoga, California, a ground-rule double outside San Jose, Rich Hill was blessed with two major league baseball options. Born in 1962, his first loyalty leaned toward the Oakland A's, who won three straight World Series in his childhood, from 1972 through '74.

He remembers fibbing to his mother one morning about being sick so he could stay home from school and listen to an A's game on the radio against the Cincinnati Reds in the '72 World Series.

Later, his allegiance shifted to Willie Mays basket catches, Juan Marichal's exaggerated leg kick and the San Francisco Giants.

"I remember they'd open that door to Candlestick Park and that green grass hits you," said Hill. "The sound of the crack of the bat, the uniforms, the colors in the stands. My love of baseball was forged out of the womb."

Hill is 55 years old now, and his love of baseball has not diminished. If anything, like a bolt off Mike Trout's bat, it has only soared. Hill played baseball in high school, in college at Cal Lutheran, for one minor league season in the St. Louis Cardinals organization before realizing his limitations as a light-hitting second baseman.

After playing as long as his talent would allow, Hill moved into coaching. He is in his 31st season as a college head coach, first at his Cal Lutheran alma mater, then USF and now his 20th season at USD.

With the Toreros 5-4 11th-inning walk-off win over Gonzaga on May 6, 2018, Hill reached a milestone. The victory was the 1,000th of his college coaching career. He is the 17th active college coach to reach the 1,000 plateau.

"It's a milestone achievement," said former USD baseball head coach John Cunningham, who preceded Hill, compiling 843 victories in 35 seasons.

Cunningham has not meddled with Hill's program, but he has observed. Cunningham provides color commentary on USD's web broadcasts and often drives the Toreros to games on the university bus.

"A number of things go into why you're winning," said Cunningham. "It starts with the players. As long as he's been coaching, he's brought in quality kids. Unbelievably good kids. And I say that academically, I say that character wise, I say that in every way."

Regarding reaching the 1,000 plateau, Hill said, "Putting that into perspective, it's more about what does 1,000 wins or 31 years of coaching, of teaching, of being a fireman or policeman mean? 

"That means perseverance. It means being able to manage and overcome adversity. It means flexibility. And it means a relationship-focused approach to your job."

Hill has been a head coach for 31 years and compiled a career record of 1,000-699-4.
Hill has been a head coach for 31 years and compiled a career record of 1,000-699-4.

Hill's 31-year career record is 1,000-696-4. His 20-year record at USD is 668-472-4.

Coach that long and you compile some impressive credentials. Of Hill's previous 30 seasons, 26 produced winning records.

The Toreros have won seven West Coast Conference titles under Hill. They have had 80 players drafted and 85 players sign professional contracts. From 2013 to 2015, USD produced three straight first-round draft picks: Kris Bryant, Conner Joe and Kyle Holder.

Bryant, of course, is USD's most famous baseball alum. He won the 2013 Golden Spikes Award as college baseball's player of the year, earned Rookie of the Year honors with the Chicago Cubs in 2015 and was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2016. Bryant fielded the ground ball that led to the final out of the 2016 World Series, the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years.

There is an irony to Hill racking up so many victories. In building one of the West Coast's most successful programs, he seldom talks about winning.

"We talk about the process here daily," Hill said. "We almost never talk about winning."

That process entails controlling what you can control.

"What you can be a 10 out of 10 at," said Hill. "How great are you in the weight room? How great are you with our yoga coach? How great are you in training? How great are you in breathing patterns during a game? Committing yourself to seeing the pitch with a clear mind when you step into the box."

"He puts a lot of emphasis on the day in and day out (process) rather than the big picture," said catcher/first baseman/outfielder Jay Schuyler, the leading hitter among regulars on this year's team. "He puts a lot of emphasis on preparation.

"And on putting your team needs ahead of your own."

Hill is a man who has achieved balance in his life. He has been married for 31 years. He and his wife, Lori, have two grown children in their 20s, Robbie and Lindsey.

In his youth, Hill would body surf off Santa Cruz. When he accepted the USD job in the summer of 1998, he committed to learn how to surf standing atop a board.

"I said, `I'm getting a longboard and going out every day for a month. I don't care what the conditions. If I can do it, great. If not, that's that."

Two weeks into the deadline, he stood atop his first wave.

"Twenty years," said Hill. "It's the fabric of my life."

He surfs or paddles almost daily. In his office, which sits down the third-base line at picturesque, on-campus Fowler Park, attached to a wall adjacent to his desk is a longboard.

Players and coaches who suited up for USD autograph the board, melding two of his passions.

He does not take his role as head coach, providing guidance for teenagers he tries to meld into young men, lightly.

He is reminded of a quote the late University of Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido relayed to Shaka Smart when Smart took over the Longhorns' men's basketball program.

"Never forget for whom we do what we do," said Hill, reciting Garrido.

"When we sign up to be coaches -- and that is a very honorable word and extremely honorable profession - it is about your players," Hill said. "There is a purpose-driven environment you need to provide for your players. And at the top of that list is growth."

No doubt, Hill is proud to have coached Bryant. To have watched the third baseman develop into one of baseball's best young players.

But here's what excites him more. When he receives a phone call or text from a former player, relaying news about a first job. When an ex-Torero texts a picture of his newborn baby.

"That," said Hill, "usurps any type of championship."

During the course of a 45-minute conversation for this story, Hill walked about the Fowler Park playing field, standing in left field, barefoot. He wore shorts, a USD pullover, sunglasses and sunscreen.

He talked about parents entrusting him with their sons.

"Sending the boy to me, and (the boy) becoming a man," said Hill. "That next step to manhood is development."

The job title says head coach. One thousand wins later, his greatest victory may be landing employment that is not a job but a calling.

Said Hill, from his outdoor office that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, "The game of baseball has given me so many blessings that I can never repay."

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