Hill remembers notable past after 900th RU win
In 1984, an average gallon of gas cost $1.10. Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was a teenager, and the New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the third straight year.
Times have changed, but Fred Hill’s status as Rutgers head baseball coach has not.
“I don’t know Rutgers baseball without Fred Hill,” said junior rightfielder Steve Zavala.
Hill, in his 29th season with the Scarlet Knights, won his 900th game with Rutgers on Saturday against West Virginia, but it was the last thing he wanted to focus on.
“Let’s talk about something else,” he said.
Hill ignored it as if he did not accomplish another accolade as the 16th winningest active coach in Division I baseball with 1,051 career wins.
He was as stern as he was after any win or loss. But Hill occasionally cracks a smile and breaks his determination, as he did when he reminisced about his history with Rutgers.
“Probably the biggest thing is I’m a New Jersey guy,” Hill said on why he has stuck around Rutgers. “I was close enough to see my kids grow up and see my boys play. My girls were cheerleaders.”
Hill’s history in New Jersey stems past Rutgers. After graduating from Clifford High School in East Orange, Hill stayed in the same town and played baseball, basketball and football at Upsala College, where he later coached baseball while playing it semi-pro.
His main focus became coaching in 1976, when he coached the Montclair State football team and then began coaching the baseball team the following spring.
In his final season with each, he led the football team to the Division III semifinals and then helped the baseball team to the Division III World Series.
Rutgers offered Hill a job afterward, and that was where he settled.
“I never really wanted to go to another state or to a larger school,” Hill said.
Hill adopted the program from former head coach Matt Bolger, who at the time led all Rutgers coaches in wins with 293.
With Bolger’s success and a 1950 College World Series title, the Knights had a history before Hill arrived.
But Hill overshadowed much of that history and coached many more great players.
Hill entered a program that produced four players who combined for five All-American honors. The 36th-year head coach has developed 20 more players with 45 national honors.
Rutgers’ only current All-American is junior pitcher Tyler Gebler, who joined the Knights in 2009 partly because of other nationally recognized players from Toms River High School South (N.J.)who played for Hill.
“Seeing kids from my high school — [Todd] Frazier came here, and I saw the success [he] had,” Gebler said. “Just seeing that, [I wanted] to follow in [his] footsteps.”
Frazier, a third baseman in the Cincinnati Reds’ system, leads all Knights (21-15, 7-5) with 42 career home runs from 2005-2007.
Zavala said Hill looks for players who “just 100 percent hustle all the time. He doesn’t expect you to hit 1.000.”
That is what Hill said the other former Knight did who got a major league at-bat last year —Chicago Cubs outfielder David DeJesus
“You know people have a great respect for him,” Hill said. “I don’t think they’d trade for him if they didn’t.”
Along with the players Hill developed, he has also made Rutgers one of the most prominent baseball programs in the North.
Among active coaches of teams above the Mason-Dixon Line, only Minnesota head coach John Anderson has won more games. Despite less recognition, Hill respects players who deal with more inclement weather.
“We don’t have everything perfect [up north].” he said.
Hill’s journey continues this weekend, when the Knights travel to Connecticut (21-16, 9-3). He could not decide on his favorite memory at Rutgers — not only because he has so many, but because the 77-year-old’s mind is in the future.
“I’m not done yet,” he said.