Wilmington's Blue Rock Tyler Hill has learned plenty about winning championships in his minor league career, but this one was a little bit different.
Delaware Military Academy alum Tyler Hill joined his hometown Blue Rocks in Early August , and proceeded to go on a 6-week wild ride that climaxed in a dramatic Game 5 of the Carolina League Championship Series in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
A walk-off, double play gave Wilmington their first Carolina League title since 1999, but Tyler said it didn’t come without nerves.
"You always get those butterflies; it doesn’t matter if you feel you’re going to win or you feel you’re going to lose. When you get to crunch time you get that excited feeling and you want to get it over, but enjoy it at the same time. But it was awesome when Tad [Ratliff] threw that last pitch and that that ground ball and started spinning it from Kass [Kyle Cassner] on over, it was awesome. It’s an unreal feeling that never gets old.”
It was the climax of a post-season that saw Wilmington play 5 games where a loss would have ended their season, and the Blue Rocks won all 5 of them.
C“I definitely grew a lot of gray hairs, that’s for sure. But, it just means every pitch and every out really mattered. That’s what I really learned from it. It doesn’t matter if you go down 2 runs in the first few innings or up 3 runs in the first couple innings, you have to play all 9 innings, because anything can happen.”
It happened, but then it was all over. With the extra 2 weeks added to the season for the Divisional and then Mills Cup rounds, many of the Kansas City Royals' top prospects had to race out to the Arizona Fall League or other Instructional Leagues, meaning they had to get their celebration done before busing back to Wilmington.
“It wasn’t too crazy, I tried to sleep the whole time, but your adrenaline was pumping through celebrating and being excited to be home. I had the Mills Cup sitting next to me on the bus ride the whole way home, so I was checking that out the whole time. A lot of guys already got their flights out, so we didn’t have the whole team, but we got all of our celebrating out before the bus.”
Hill won titles with the 2014 and 2015 Gulf Coast League Red Sox and 2017 Greenville Drive in the South Atlantic League, but said this mass exodus was different.
“That’s something I’d never been a part of. I’d been on three other winning teams, and that was the first time they had to break it up so soon. It made it more, I don’t know how to explain it, it was different. But we’re still in a group chat together, we’re still talking and chirping at each other, it’s still exciting.”
While some of his teammates are in Arizona, Hill remains in Wilmington, where he’ll be the star of a celebration for the team’s championship on Tuesday night at Wilmington Brew Works.
The 23-year-old said he’s trying to stay busy, waiting for his next opportunity.
“Right now I’m just going to be giving lessons and coaching a little bit. I’m hopefully going to have access to Frawley and handing out lessons in the Delaware area. I’m looking to play some winter ball, but otherwise just lifting, working out, and getting ready for Spring Training. Talking to our first base coach Allan de San Miguel, he manages in Australia, so hopefully I can get a spot there. I’m trying to stay patient, but hopefully I can help kids get better as I love coaching, as well.”
It’s a chance to learn from someone who has been part of 4 minor league championship teams in 6 years, and after hitting .403 in 21 games with Wilmington, Tyler’s Major League dreams are far from out of reach.
ROCKS NOTES: The Blue Rocks will host their 2019 Mills Cup Championship Celebration at Wilmington Brew Works (3129 Miller Road, Wilmington, Delaware) Tuesday, September 24 from 5:00-8:00. The event is free to all ages... Those interested in getting lessons from Tyler Hill can reach him at Tyler.firstname.lastname@example.org