Oct. 23, 2007
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
So in walks new Royals manager Trey Hillman at Kauffman Stadium and he's explaining how he's going to turn around a franchise that's lost 403 games the last four years.
He's not the magic fix, he wants you to know, mostly because there are no magic fixes. But here's his plan:
"I'll tell you my priorities," he says. "That's pitch it. Catch it. And we'll figure out a way to score runs. You have to be able to eliminate your infrastructure of ego to plate runs when you don't have certain pieces you'd like to have in a perfect world."
Hillman admittedly does not know the Royals' personnel the way he'll need to when the team opens spring training in February.
His focus right now is in Japan, where the team he's managing, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, is preparing for the Japan Series.
It's worth knowing that the Fighters, under Hillman, concentrate on pitching and this year were light on sluggers. Sound familiar?
"He gets the most out of his players," says Wayne Graczyk, who covers baseball for The Japan Times. "He makes a great meal out of scraps."
When Hillman comes back and is able to focus entirely on the Royals, he says he will bring some of what he's learned over five seasons in Japan. The focus there is on pitching, on defense, on bunting, on working hard. Japanese ballplayers are famous for their workouts, which often involve exponentially more hours and repetitions than in America.
Took a while for Hillman to adjust to that. He says the biggest mistake he made in Japan was running his first spring training like a spring training here. His thought was quality over quantity. Their thought was quality with plenty of quantity.
He adjusted their way, and it all happened so fast. The Fighters hadn't won a pennant since 1981 until last year, when they also won the Japan Series and the Asian Series. Now they have a chance to do it again.
"I'm not going to keep these guys on the field as long as the typical Japanese player is used to staying on the field in spring training," Hillman says. "But suffice it to say, we're going to work. And we're going to play some catch."
That's just fine with the Royals players. Bring on longer hours, more drills focusing on fundamentals.
"If it gets us in the playoffs, why not?" says catcher John Buck. "If it gets us in the playoffs, I'm more than willing to do anything.