Legends Luncheon – Part 2: The Club through Trey Hillman's eyes
Yesterday we gave you a piece of the conversation held at the Crosstown Station between General Manager Dayton Moore, manager Trey Hillman, and former players Al Fitzmorris and Willie Wilson. Today we’ll bring you the rest of what was said during the final State Farm Legends Luncheon. For more information on the luncheons please visit www.thebestofbuck.com. The Luncheons are in honor of Buck O’Neil and have supported the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (www.nlbm.com) for nine years.
Part one of the Luncheon recap yesterday focused heavily on Moore and building the Club’s minor league system. Wilson, as a one-time Royals farmhand, put in his two cents about how to build the club as well.
Today, Around the Horn wants to focus on what Hillman had to say about his first year as a manger. We’ll preface Hillman’s comments by saying that after the conversation between the four men on stage finished, the audience was allowed to ask questions. One woman asked both Hillman and Moore what their best and worst decisions were since joining the Royals. Moore told the crowd his greatest baseball decision to this point was the hiring of Trey Hillman to manage the Royals.
Moore fells so strongly that he has the right man he barely hesitated before responding. He sees in Hillman a desire and work ethic fit for the job. Two examples of that are Hillman’s seemingly tireless work while in spring training. Hillman would be on the back fields working with the minor league players long after the Major Leaguers had showered and left the complex. No one asked Hillman to do it, he just did.
In the same manner, he was at the Royals pre-draft workout hitting fungos to prospects who weren’t even in the organization yet. Moore said these are the types of things no other manager in the Majors is doing but they make the young players want to play for Hillman. If that kind of environment can be created, then a pride and desire to wear the Royal uniform will be created. Something Around the Horn wrote about yesterday in talking about strengthen the farm system.
Needless to say the fan was pleased and said she truly believes that Hillman and Moore are the best people in baseball today to take on the job of building a champion in Kansas City.
When Hillman took the job, the first thing he did – which was his answer for his best decision – was to start talking to players but also to start raising the expectations. Hillman said he was wearing out his cell phone while he was still in Japan talking to people in the organization from players to publicity folks to the baseball minds. He did say not to mention this fact to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, his club last season in Japan. So keep that on the down-low.
The expectation of the 2008 Royals was to win the World Series. That was Hillman’s best decision. He told people before the season, “If you aren’t aiming for a championship, you can’t win one.” He also knew that 2008 was going to be a season where a lot of questions needed to be answered.
Since Moore’s arrival, the team needed to address some issues like adding a front-line starter and a slugger to the lineup. Moore has done both of those things with Gil Meche, who was considered a middle-tier free agent when he signed, and Jose Guillen, who has come with some controversy but is an impact to the lineup. These players believe in what’s going on in Kansas City and want to win, which is where Hillman is coming from. He wants to win.
This season hasn’t been the easiest. Hillman said probably one of his other decisions that could go either way was not to use Joakim Soria during the 12-game losing streak. Using the Royals All-Star may have won that game, but the what-ifs can go both ways. Hillman is content to know that Soria is healthy and still pitching at an extremely high level. Had he been used on short rest during the streak, who knows what may have happened.
For the first-year manager, Soria is a bright spot. He heard so much good about the closer during spring training but didn’t see it. Soria didn’t pitch like an All-Star in the spring. But he turned it on once the season started. Hillman said he was amazed that he had 39 (now 40) saves on a team that had less than 70 wins.
Hillman was also impressed with Mike Aviles. He told Moore that Aviles would make an impact on this ball club during the spring. However, Hillman didn’t think the rookie would make this much of a difference to the 2008 team. Likewise with Ryan Shealy. During their demotion meetings, both players were somewhat upset but quickly turned around their feelings to a desire to work and get better.
Another question and answer was Zack Greinke. They wanted to see him stay healthy and stay consistent in the rotation for a full year. Greinke has matured and blossomed this season. Hillman said he’s become a pitcher and not just a thrower. One of the key’s for Greinke (who starts today) is to pitch around 91-92 mph and keep his 96-97 mph heater in his back pocket to break out every once in a while and baffle a hitter. Greinke has done that and so much more. He has become a student of the game.
Fitzmorris said that he and the pitchers on his teams were constantly talking to hitting coach Charlie Lau. They wanted to know how hitters thought about hitting. Hillman said this team is becoming students of the game in the same manner. He hopes that the inefficiency of the starters comes as a bit of a “slap in the face” and spurs them to work more. Look at what Kyle Davies accomplished two nights ago. That is a perfect example. Hillman said that if Davies can reproduce 75 percent of what he did on Tuesday he will be a solid performer. True, its one start and this late season surge is in September. But Hillman likes to live by a saying he got from Moore.
“Believe in what you see and not what you hear,” Hillman said.
For starters, congratulations to Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki. He received a warm ovation from the Kauffman crowd when he collected his 200th hit of the season last night. With the hit, Suzuki tied a Major League record and broke the American League record by recorded eight straight seasons with at least 200 hits. He broke Wade Boggs’ A.L. mark of seven (1983-89) and tied Wee Willie Keeler (1894-1901)…Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo have career high hitting streaks going at 14 games and 11 games, respectively…Ryan Shealy homered for the second straight night, the second time he’s accomplished the feat this season (third in his career)…The Royals are riding a season-high six-game winning streak and have 11 homers during the streak…Joakim Soria is one of three Royals pitchers to record a 40 save season and currently has the fourth best season in team history behind Jeff Montgomery’s 45 in 1993 and Dan Quisenberry’s 45 in 1983 and 44 in 1984.
Today’s Official Game Notes.