The Columbus Clippers, AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees, is a proving ground, not only for baseball, but for life. "My job is to get guys ready for the big leagues", says Trey Hillman, the 37 year old Clippers manager. But the way he goes about his job provides guidance for something larger than baseball.
With a passion for the game, Hillman, a middle infielder in the Indians organization, and subsequently the youngest full-time manager in the modern day history of the Yankees organization, sees his role as that of a helper. There are players who are on the way up in the organization, and there are those on the way down. Helping them deal with the things that happen along the way is what sets Hillman apart.
Baseball, "The Game", as Hillman calls it, "emulates life more than any other sport. Long after we're dead and gone, the game will continue. Even with all the problems it faces right now. It is a parable for life. One day you can go 0 for 4, and the next day 4 for 4. There are highs and lows. But the 0 for 4 may have been four hard hit balls that just didn't find a hole, or there might have been a questionable call. That's a lot like life. There are highs and lows. There are things out of our control."
"God intends for us to stay focussed during the difficult times, and the good times, not just in baseball, but in life."
The Columbus Clippers are a team with an extraordinary number of spiritually focussed athletes. Attendance at Sunday chapel ranges from 14-20, due in part to Hillman's declaration that chapel is a priority for him.
Recently, when a young boy was critically injured at a Clippers game played at Sranton, Pa, the entire team gathered in the parking lot before boarding the buses back to the hotel. "I told the guys," said Hillman, "That it wasn't a show, but some of us were going to pray before we left and whoever wanted to join in was welcome. I'm pretty sure there wasn't anyone who didn't join it. We were all there, holding hands in the parking lot, praying for the health of that young boy and his family."
Asked how it felt to have so many believers on his team, Hillman responded, "It makes my heart happy. This is a team where it's not unusual for a guy to put his arm around a teammate and offer some encouragement to give unconditional love."
"My favorite Bible verse is 1 Corinthians 13:13 And so these three abide faith and hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.' I called Darryl Strawberry the other day, who was with us last summer, when I heard about his latest bout with cancer, just to tell him that he is loved. That's really what this is all about."
Growing up in a "God-fearing" home, as Hillman puts it, in Arlington, TX, Hillman accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior at the age of 13.
"I've just always felt God tugging at my heart."