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Saturday, June 20, 2020

Trey Hillman adapted and adjusted, both in the U.S. and Japan; Managed Royals in majors over two seasons

Originally published April 11, 2011; Updated June 2020
After his third season as a player in the minors, Trey Hillman had the choice between returning as a player for a fourth year, or taking a job as a scout, The Hartford Courant wrote in 1997.

Hillman chose to become a scout.

"It was probably one of the toughest decisions I've ever made," Hillman told The Courant. "I was very realistic about what my opportunity and chances were to play at the big-league level. As far as the physical tools go, I was a good defender, but I never got an opportunity to develop as a hitter because of limited playing time."

While he never got to the majors as a player, Hillman did get to the majors, as a manager. He served just over two seasons as the manager of the Kansas City Royals. It was part of a more-than two decade post-playing career for Hillman that includes stints managing in the minors, and in Japan.

His brief playing career over by 1987, Hillman spent two seasons as a scout for the Indians, moving to the Yankees system in 1989 as a coach with Fort Lauderdale. He then started his managing career in 1990, helming short-season Oneonta after a stint coaching with AAA Columbus.

At Oneonta, Hillman watched over young Dutch prospect Robert Eenhoorn. Eenhoorn, Hillman told The New York Times, played shortstop like Cal Ripken.

"The anticipation, the ability to play the position like a little man, it's all there," Hillman told The Times. "All he needs is to work on his hitting in the minor leagues and he'll be fine."

Hillman stayed with the Yankees system for more than a decade, through 2001. He also moved up the system, managing AA Norwich by 1997 and then AAA Columbus in 1999. After a brief stint with the Rangers in 2002 as director of player development, Hillman made the big jump, to Japan.

In Japan, Hillman took over the Nippon Ham Fighters, a team that had finished fifth of six the year before, and hadn't come in first in two decades, according to The Associated Press.

"I'm not coming over here to rewrite the game," Hillman told The AP in March 2003. "One of the things I've learned over the years is you have to adapt and adjust to different situations."

Hillman spent five years with the Fighters, taking them to two straight Japan Series, winning it in on their first visit in 2006. It was enough for the Royals to hire him for 2008.

"He is an exceptional person with a great passion to lead,'' Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement after hiring Hillman. "He is the perfect choice for our organization.''

But Hillman couldn't turn things around in Kansas City like he did in Japan. In two-plus seasons, Hillman went a total of 152-207, finishing in fourth place in each of his two full seasons.

Fired in May 2010 after a seven-game losing streak, Hillman managed one more game, getting the win.

"I was thankful to get to manage today," Hillman told after his final game. "You don't want to go out on a seven-game losing streak, that's for sure."

Hillman has since gone on to coach elsewhere. He's served as a bench coach with the Dodgers and Astros. In 2019, he landed as a coach with the Marlins and is set to coach for them at third base in 2020.

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