Delaware Military Academy alum Tyler Hill remembers going to baseball camps at Frawley Stadium as a 7-year-old, learning the game he now plays professionally.
Friday night, an unexpected dream came true as he was signed by the Kansas City Royals for their Class A affiliate in Wilmington, and he delivered during his first at-bat in Myrtle Beach with a towering home run.
It kicked off an incredible 8-for-11 weekend with 3 RBIs for Hill, who said his first impression for the Blue Rocks could not have gone better.
“It’s a relief, but at the same time while you’re satisfied with what happened, you realize that’s not it/ You try to keep moving off of that momentum, have a nice series, and hopefully push towards a championship. Winning a championship here would be amazing.”
Here is now Frawley Stadium, where Hill collected a hit and scored a run in a Blue Rocks victory Tuesday night.
It’s not the first time Hill has set foot competitively on Frawley Stadium’s natural grass, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever do it again as a home-team player.
“It’s definitely weird. The last time I played here was senior year of high school against Mount Pleasant, and I got lit up a little bit (laughs). When I got the call from the Royals and they said if I wanted to play in Wilmington, I said ‘of course I do.” It was great coming home and seeing my family, it seemed like everyone found out after that, it just feels right.”
Hill’s journey to Wilmington started in the summer of 2014, when after a 1st Team All-State season at Delaware Military Academy, he was selected in the 19th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Boston Red Sox.
He had an offer to play Division II baseball in college, but said he couldn’t pass up a sure path to the pros.
“You never know what happens. I could have not gotten drafted 3 years later. I was committed to Wilmington University. I felt like the opportunity was there, so I took it and made the best of it. I feel like my career has been pretty good so far.”
It’s been a good career, but it nearly didn’t get off the ground.
After the draft, the Red Sox assigned Tyler to their Gulf Coast League team in Florida, where he didn’t even make it a week before his first setback.
“My first year I tore my hamstring 4 games in. It was a little tough at first, but it was a blessing and a curse. I learned so much from that first year, and we ended up winning the championship. I had Tom Kotchman as a manager (40-year veteran), Rafael Devers (with Boston now, went 6-for-6 Tuesday), Josh Ockimey (AAA), and Michael Chavis (Boston’s Injured List) on that team. Learning from those guys and being friends with those guys made me a better baseball player just learning, even though I didn’t get many at-bats. At first it sucked, but taking the positives, it was awesome.”
He returned to the Gulf Coast League the next year, and even earned a promotion to the Low A New York-Penn League late in the season.
He continued with Lowell in 2016, where he hit an impressive .332 and hit his first 4 professional home runs.
Another promotion followed for 2017, as he jumped to the Mid A South Atlantic League, playing for Greenville in South Carolina. His batting average dipped to .272, and Hill said that’s where mental toughness began to be needed.
“A lot of guys coming out of high school are used to succeeding a lot and they get turned off when they go on that 0-for-30 skid and aren’t doing so well. I had one year in high school where I didn’t do so hot. I wouldn’t call it a wake-up call, but I knew it was coming, it’s baseball, you’re going to do bad. Guys are better than me, I understand that. It’s how I can handle my business day-by-day and get better 1% each day.”
His season was enough to earn another promotion for 2018, as he was bumped to the Salem Red Sox, a team that competes against the Blue Rocks in the Carolina League.
On May 25, the schedule sent Salem to Wilmington, creating his first professional homecoming in the First State.
“I definitely had those dates circled, and I definitely know my family did as well. It was unreal here and playing at first. I didn’t do too hot here, I couldn’t buy a hit, but it was awesome having my family and friends here. To top it off, my father threw out the first pitch on Police Officer’s Appreciation Day, so that was special.”
Hill went 3-for-10 in the series with a home run, but by the end of his 4th season the Red Sox were left with a decision on whether to protect him from what is known as the Rule 5 Draft.
They didn’t, and the next thing Tyler knew, he wasn’t sure what he knew.
“At the time I was up in Philadelphia hitting with my hitting coach Dan Hannigan. I’m getting texts saying ‘congratulations, you’re a Tiger,” which I didn’t understand. The next thing I know I get calls from the farm directors of the Red Sox and Tigers, and as soon as the Tigers guy called me he said ‘well we just traded you to the Yankees’, and I was thinking that was a crazy day for sure.”
The Yankees sent him to Tampa in the Class A Florida State League, where he hit .242 with 5 home runs in 51 games, when they released him.
His next move was out of the traditional minor league systems into independent baseball.
“Not once was I doubting myself. When I was picked up by Winnipeg in the American Association I just said ‘whatever happens, happens.’ I was going to go out there and have some fun and figure things out. Some things clicked, and I’m really happy the Royals picked me up, for sure.”
There’s been a lot of baseball work in Tyler’s 5 years in professional baseball, but he’s tried to enjoy the down times as well.
“We play a lot of cards, and I play a lot of Playstation, especially ironically, MLB The Show. I just try to relax and pick up books and read, too. I’m hoping to take some classes this offseason at Wilmington or on-line.”
He entered Tuesday night’s game hitting .727 with Wilmington, and while that average will undoubtedly drop through the laws of baseball, Tyler said he has a lot motivating him forward.
“My family. First off, I’m playing baseball for a living which is amazing. Secondly, I know I have what it takes to get there. I don’t want to be cocky, but the confidence is once that opportunity comes I have to take it, and I hope this is that opportunity.”
That opportunity is now at Frawley Stadium, and after needing 15 tickets for Tuesday’s opener of the series against Lynchburg, Tyler said it will be great to feel the love in person, and not just on social media.
“I feel their energy; I feel people behind me. My dad posts me on Facebook all the time. Reading their comments, I know it’s not just me. I have the whole city and the state behind me.”
Those fans will get to see Tyler grow, as he hopes to earn a trip to Northwest Arkansas, and hopefully one day, Kansas City.