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Hillman enjoying break after departure from Royals

by Wayne Graczyk

Former Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman will be taking a family break and then moving on after being fired as the K.C. skipper on May 13 after a little more than two years guiding the Royals.

In an e-mail, Hillman wrote, “I am home in Liberty Hill, Texas, after having moved all of our belongings back from K.C. I am really trying to decompress with the family and get some things done around the house and am also looking forward to having a summer off for the first time in 26 years.”

He said he will be enjoying a family trip later this month to — of all places — Alaska, and he plans to begin in late July a search for a new job in baseball.

Having worked in the past for the organizations of the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, and being interviewed for then-vacant major league managerial positions with the San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics in 2006, Hillman knows a lot of people in the game. With that and his easy-going and extremely likable personality, he should have no problem finding employment.

Rumors have been circulating about Hillman possibly returning to Japan to lead the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, whose manager, Shigeru Takada, stepped down on May 26. Takada was in the Fighters front office as general manager during Hillman’s tenure as the Nippon Ham field boss.

The Swallows have promoted head coach Junji Ogawa to replace Takada, but it is presumed that appointment is on an interim basis, and Yakult will be looking for full-time manager this coming autumn.

Hillman wrote, however, “No one from Japan has contacted me about a job, and I would really prefer to stay in the States until my kids get out of school.” That will not be for a few years yet.

The main reason he left Japan following the 2007 season, he said at the time, was so his two children could grow up and finish their education in the U.S., and it was late that year when he was offered the job to manage the struggling Royals club.

He had led the Fighters in their transition and move from Tokyo to Sapporo between the 2003 and 2004 seasons. With Nippon Ham, he won the Pacific League pennant in 2006 and 2007, his fourth and fifth seasons, and defeated the Chunichi Dragons to win the 2006 Japan Series.

He began his first major league managerial job with the Royals in 2008, hoping to revitalize a franchise that had not been known as a winner since the days of George Brett in the 1980s. There were high hopes in the town where professional sports championships have come few and far between.

Kansas City long ago lost its NBA and NHL teams with the NBA’s Kings having gone west to Sacramento, Calif., and the NHL’s Scouts relocating to Denver and later becoming the New Jersey Devils.

The NFL’s Chiefs enjoyed success in the 1960s and early ’70s, having won Super Bowl IV but, in recent times, the Chiefs have been also-rans along with the Royals. Hillman had expected to rectify that, at least as far as baseball goes, but it was not to be.

He changed his uniform number this year from No. 22 which he used during his first two seasons with the Royals to the No. 88 he wore during his successful days with Nippon Ham, but that did not help. After two lackluster seasons and with the team in last place in the AL Central Division again this year, the Royals front office pulled the plug and showed Hillman the door.

As for what will happen in his baseball life now, the deeply religious Hillman, wrote, “I have had a few calls inquiring what I want to do next and have also had lots of support from friends and fans (many in Japan). I don’t know what is next, but I know God will show the way as He always has.”

He concluded by saying he has no regrets and is taking termination of his job in Kansas City in stride, although it came more suddenly and much sooner than he had expected.

“I am not bitter or mad at anyone, just disappointed to not have been given a longer time to make a difference,” he said.

To those in Japan, he wrote, “Thanks for all your love and concern,” and I am sure we will be seeing him again as a big league manager or perhaps as skipper of another team in Japan some day.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com