Royals introduce Hillman as manager
Skipper has led Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan since 2003
KANSAS CITY -- Under a leaden sky on a moist Monday afternoon, workers' torches were dismantling the old scoreboard and jackhammers pounded apart concrete at Kauffman Stadium. A remake of the ballpark was underway.
Beneath the stands, another transformation began as the Royals introduced Trey Hillman as their new manager.
"I'm a hungry guy," Hillman said. "I do not like to lose. I like to start from the ground up and build, and build in such a way that it's going to be maintained for many years to come."
With that, ground was broken on the Hillman era. He has succeeded Buddy Bell to become the Royals' 15th full-time manager on a multi-year contract.
"I'm a long-haul guy, too," he said. "I'm a loyal guy. I'm bleeding Royal blue already."
Hillman jetted to Kansas City from Japan, where his Nippon Ham Fighters are preparing for the finals of the Japan Series against the Chunichi Dragons. He visited with Royals staff, then met with a conference room bulging with media from Kansas City as well as Japan.
He takes over a Royals club that finished last but seems to have turned a corner with a talented core of younger players. He has a slogan that he likes to use: "A-A-O -- Adapt-Adjust-Overcome."
"In Japan, from an offensive standpoint, we've had to get very creative -- from the championship that we won in 2006 to the run we're making right now," he said.
"In 2006 we led the league in home runs. In 2007 we're last in every offensive category except stolen bases. So we've had to adjust."
Hillman said he'd bring some of the lessons learned in his Japan experience to the Royals, just as he took lessons learned in 12 years of managing in the New York Yankees' Minor League system to Japan. Some of it meshes, some of it doesn't.
"I can give you my priorities," he said. "Pitch it, catch it. We'll figure out a way to score runs."
That could be quite a project. The Royals had trouble crossing the plate this year.
"I like to bunt, I love to hit-and-run, I love to steal bases. I was educated in the Yankee system with their baserunning and base-stealing program," he said.
"I like to create movement on the bases, I think it creates pressure to the opposition. I like the home run and the double as much as much as anybody, but I think you have to be ready to diversify and create other opportunities."
Among things on the front burner in Hillman's view are finding right-handed power hitting and putting together a pitching rotation.
Only pitching coach Bob McClure, retained from last season's staff, has been announced as a member of the coaching staff. Hillman, without revealing a name, said he had a good idea about his bench coach. General manager Dayton Moore said announcements on the staff probably would come within a few days.
Naturally, there was the question of Hillman using his expertise to point the Royals toward some Japanese players.
"I know that the desire of the Royals' front office -- Dayton and ownership -- is to go global as much as possible to produce championships and consecutive championships," he said.
"I'm not going to actively recruit players from the Fighters or anyone else. If it's a desire that they have in their heart to play in the Major Leagues in the United States, I'd be happy to help any way that I can."
Hillman, 44, was interviewed a year ago as a managerial prospect by Texas, San Diego and Oakland. This year, his name came up as a possible successor to Joe Torre, if and when he left the Yankees. By the time Torre rebuffed the Yankees' offer, Hillman already had accepted the Royals' job.
However, Hillman didn't doubt that he might have had a shot at the Yankees' job because of his long friendship with general manager Brian Cashman.
"If you read the press, you would think so. I think there was a good chance of that simply because of my relationship with Brian Cashman," Hillman said.
"I don't have a very good bubble-gum card, and I understand the need in that market to have a good bubble-gum card, but if anyone has the gumption and the guts to make Trey Hillman a candidate in that market, it would be Brian Cashman. Brian and I have remained friends for 17 years."
His future, though, is now with the Royals.
That he doesn't have any Major League managing or coaching experience doesn't concern Hillman.
"It all depends on what you believe is Major League baseball. In my humble opinion, I've been a Major League manager for the last five years. We get after it in Japan," he said. "On many levels and on any given day the quality of play, I believe, is as good as it is here in the United States at the Major League level."
Boiled down to simple terms, Hillman described his outlook on the game this way:
"One of my players, my starting center fielder and leadoff man, likes to try to speak English. He comes up every day and he says very simply, 'Kantoku,' which is Japanese for manager, 'Enjoy, play hard, that's all.' Then he runs off. It's pretty simple."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.