This past March, a legend was laid to rest. A legend whose impact goes far beyond words; a legend who, through countless others, has impacted people he never even had a chance to meet.
A couple years ago, a friend of mine had a pretty profound thought about what life was all about. He said, “we spend our entire lives selling tickets to our funeral.” Let that sink in for a second. For as somber as death can be, a funeral shows the lasting impact of how someone lived, through those to attend the services to pay their respects to the family.
Well, this past March, Fred Hill sold out his funeral.
In September of 1996, I set foot on the Rutgers campus as an immature freshman baseball player who thought he had the game of baseball and the game of life both figured out. And then I started being around Fred Hill just about every day for the next four years who made sure, many days louder than others, that I got to know how much I truly didn’t know.
When I had originally committed to go to Rutgers and to play for Coach Hill, I did so without really having any idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea that I was going to embark on a life-shaping journey with a man who, aside from my parents, would have the greatest influence on my life. He was a second father to me.
In the months since his passing, my mind has been flooded with the memories of the twenty-plus years that I was blessed to have this man in my life. Some have me laughing out loud just as easily as others bring tears to my eyes, knowing how much of his life he invested, in mine. What all of these memories had in common was how he was teaching us life through the game. He was ALWAYS teaching us life. And we didn’t even know it.
When he was always on our case about this or that, he was teaching us the importance of always doing things the right way. Every time it was above 32 degrees and he had us playing an intersquad game in the University’s basketball arena parking lot, he was teaching us to take advantage of what we had, rather than complaining about what we didn’t. When he kicked someone out of practice for showing up on time, he was teaching us accountability…and to always be early! When he benched someone for not hustling, he was teaching us that we owed it to ourselves and our team to give our best effort, all the time, in everything we do.
When he would be the last one to leave the field because he was picking up garbage in the dugout he was actually teaching us how to be humble without ever feeling like we were too good to do something. And every time this ridiculously successful guy who won championships, coached All-Americans, and developed Major Leaguers asked US questions about the game and how HE could get better, he taught us how we should always be learning, no matter how much we knew.
He is THE reason why I am a coach today. Coach Hill saw something in me before I was even ready to see it in myself upon the sudden end to my playing career. He gave me a second life in baseball, but more importantly, he gave me purpose to my life beyond baseball. If I can have just a tiny fraction of the impact on others that Fred Hill has had on me, my life will be a resounding success.
Fred Hill turned me into a decent baseball player. And Fred Hill mentored me to become a pretty good baseball coach. But above all else, Fred Hill took me in as an immature 17 year-old kid, and over the course of the next 23 years right up until his passing, helped shape me into the man I am today.
Coach Hill may no longer be with us physically, but he will forever live inside of me, and countless other former players, coaches, friends, colleagues, and most importantly, family members whose lives he profoundly impacted, just by being Moose. While his coaching tree is impressive, it pales in comparison to the size of his life tree which has roots that go deep into the center of the earth and branches that can be seen for miles.
Over the course of his Hall of Fame coaching career, Fred Hill picked up over 1,000 victories on the diamond. Without question, he taught us how to win games. But for as successful he was as a coach, his true measure can be found in how well he taught us how to win life.