Hillman to host infield get-together
Manager has Major League-sized turf at his spread in Texas
KANSAS CITY -- Hey, y'all, come on down to Liberty Hill, Texas. Set a spell. Chew the fat. Snag some worm-killers. Whack the ol' horsehide.
All you infielders, that is.
Yep, Royals manager Trey Hillman is having most of his infielders down to his south Texas spread early next week for a little get-together. Most of his coaches will be there, too.
Get some vittles cookin', Marie, the boys are comin' over.
"It's totally a volunteer thing," Hillman said. "I planned on the coaching staff getting together at my place anyhow in January. Even for the staff it's not mandatory, but it gives us a chance to get ahead of the game for Spring Training. It kind of dominoed into a little mini-camp."
Actually, Hillman's spread is a modest six acres. Last year, Hillman got rid of his goat herd and used the back three acres to install a Major League-size infield covered with AstroTurf and a batting cage.
"That used to be the goat pasture," Hillman said. "Now it's a baseball pasture."
Oh, and his wife, Marie, won't really do the cooking. There's a barbecue place down the road that will cater the affair.
Some time last season, maybe about the time all those pop flies started eluding the Royals like wayward meteors, Hillman started asking his infielders if they'd like to gather some time in the winter.
But pop flies are not on the agenda.
"It'll be real informal," he said. "We're going to hit some ground balls and get the bodies moving and take some swings and have some laughs and get everybody on the same page going in."
It's an infielders-only session because that's the part of the field that Hillman has on his place. Nothing sub rosa is on the skipper's master plan.
"No, we're not putting any secret infield plays in," Hillman said.
The response was good, and now it looks like Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen, Mike Jacobs, Billy Butler, Ross Gload, Ryan Shealy, Mike Aviles and Willie Bloomquist will be there. He was waiting for word from Esteban German, Tony Pena Jr. and Alberto Callaspo.
"Our Latin-based players have been playing winter ball. They're in pretty good shape. I don't want to tax them, but I certainly don't want them to feel they're not welcome to come," Hillman said.
Hillman, always at home on a tractor, helped do the clearing for the baseball pasture and had a professional install the infield. The goats are gone but the deer romp on the turf in the mornings.
Despite the cold weather up north, Hillman anticipates a pleasant atmosphere at Liberty Hill for the boys next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We've had a really good winter and I've looked at the advanced forecast for next week, and it's partly sunny and 60 to 65 degrees, so I'm hoping we get good weather," he said.
If not, there are enough indoor batting cages around, so the boys can get in some work regardless.
The informal gathering will give the new players and new coaches time to get acquainted. Athletic trainer Nick Swartz and strength coordinator Ty Hill will be there to assess the players' physical condition.
After Hillman's first year of managing in Japan, he had his Nippon Ham Fighters coaches to his place for a Texas shindig.
"That was a really good time for us. It gave us some time to get some things done face-to-face for the coming year. We found that to be a huge advantage for us as a staff," he said.
The Japanese staff was put up at the house. All the Royals coaches, except for pitching coach Bob McClure, figure to be there. And with all the players and other staff coming to the hoedown, everyone will stay at a hotel in nearby Austin this time.
"I'm looking forward to it. It's kind of unique and we'll see how it goes over," Hillman said. "It's more for the camaraderie and getting everybody on the same page. It'll be a fun time."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.