JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–The new manager of the Kansas City Royals is a Southern Baptist who has been walking with the Lord for more than three decades.
Trey Hillman, 45, is a member of First Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas, 25 miles north of Austin. The Hillman family is “very faithful to the church when they’re in town,” Kirk Kriegel, the church’s executive pastor, said.
“He’s the kind of guy that you want to be around, just because he’s an encourager,” Kriegel said. “You can tell he has a genuine faith and a great family.”
Hillman was hired to manage the Royals in October. He previously had managed 13 years in the minor league system of the New York Yankees and five years in the Japanese Pacific League with the Nippon Ham Fighters. His 2006 team won the Japan Series and his 2007 team was the runner-up.
It is believed that Hillman’s youthful enthusiasm, passion for the sport and focus on developing strong pitching and defense will help generate tangible improvement in the ranks of the young Royals, who have finished last in the American League Central Division the last four seasons.
“In my understanding, we weren’t very good in situational baseball last year, and there’s room for improvement with our defensive play,” Hillman told The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Hillman came from a Christian home in Texas and was 13 when he accepted Christ.
“I knew there was a plan and a purpose, and for that plan and that purpose, I needed Christ,” he said. “I made God a promise a long time ago, and that promise was, ‘Give me an opportunity with a platform in professional baseball and I will never be hesitant, I will not be shy about professing my faith.’ That’s my job as a Christian.”
The day he spoke with The Pathway, Hillman sat at a table in the middle of a grocery store with a bag of lollipops and a stack of so-called “ugly” picture cards of himself to autograph for fans who had come to see him and three others on the touring Royals Caravan. His love for the Lord and his desire to be a good ambassador for his new team shined brightly as he consistently brought smiles to the faces of fans young and old.
“I love interacting with people,” he said. “The people have been great for two days. At the ballpark sometimes, you don’t have as much time as you’d like to spend the one-on-one time with people. I really enjoy meeting different people and being around people.
“In an entertainment business, which is what we’re in — I know it’s sports but it’s entertainment as well — I’ve always felt a sincere responsibility to do as much as you could in the community. When you have an opportunity to add a personal touch to it, I think you need to do that. This is fun for me.”
Hillman had a plan with the lollipops. He would hold one out to a young boy or girl and say, “Want a sucker? Five dollars.” The reaction was almost always a smile.
At one point he was explaining how his faith in Christ is both personal and real even as fans kept walking by the table and getting him to sign various items.
“I’ve tried to be more like Jesus over the years in the fact that it’s an offer, it’s not a force it down your throat,” he said. “Because of the platform, people can think that I’m forcing things on them, and I don’t want that.”
Suddenly he felt the need to interact with a wide-eyed young man.
“Want a sucker, buddy? You want an ugly picture? It’s the ugliest guy on the table, man. You gotta have one.”
He then went back to talking about his Christianity.
“It’s an offer, and I want to tell people about my faith, but not if they don’t want to hear it,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the way that I carry myself, and the way that I perform my duties as a leader, will cause people to say, ‘Wow! What is it about that guy?’ I’ve had that happen several times.”
At Hillman’s home church, Kriegel, who has known him and his wife Marie and their two children, T.J. and Brianna, for about four years, was not surprised to learn that Hillman was making a good first impression on Royals fans.
“Trey is just very personable and very humble in the way he presents himself,” Kriegel said.
Hillman aims to connect the current group of Royals players to the type of success with which they were so familiar in the 1970s and 1980s. Kansas City’s World Series championship team of 1985 marked its last appearance in the baseball postseason. Since then, the phrase “100 losses” has been commonly associated with the men in blue. The franchise just wants to win again.
“It’s got a lot of pride,” Hillman said. “It’s got a lot of tradition. But I want these guys that I’m in charge of on the field to enjoy what they’re doing, because if we enjoy it, I think we put more of a personal touch on doing things.”
Allen Palmeri is the senior writer for The Pathway, the official newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.