Jim Hill has been the ambassador for baseball in the City of Pine Bluff for more than five decades, and he continues working to bring events to historic Taylor Field. One such event is the 15-year-old Southwest Regional Baseball Tournament in July.
Hill said that when the tournament came open due to another venue backing out, he went to work.
“It was supposed to be in Mountain Home, but they couldn’t do it, and I immediately put in for it,” Hill said. “It will be July 19-26. It will have teams from several states. White Hall and Pine Bluff Northern will be in it for sure.”
Pine Bluff will host the event again in 2020, but it will have greater significance then.
“It will be the same thing in 2020, but in 2020 Taylor Field will be 80 years old,” Hill said. “We want to have another big celebration. We had one in 2015 when we had a World Series when it was 75, but now it will be 80. We couldn’t get another World Series. They sell them out so quickly, so this was the next to the best thing that we could get.”
Hill said he believes the tournaments will do a lot to bring people to Pine Bluff over the seven days of the event.
“We will have a big banquet for the kids when they come in, then they will play double elimination, which is just a little bit shorter than a World Series would be,” Hill said. “It will be six or seven days depending on who wins. The tournament will have 10 teams from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.”
“The teams have to pay their own travel fees, room and board,” Hill added. “They will be here at our hotels, will be eating and buying gas, so it could be a pretty good economic boost here for a week or so in Pine Bluff”
Another thing that Hill is preparing for is the 2019 high school baseball season. The Pine Bluff Zebras call Taylor Field home and will play their first home game on March 12 against Maumelle.
Next, “they will play eight-to-12 conference games here,” Hill said. “We won’t have any tournament games here this year other than the Southwest Regional in July. American Legion plays here, too, so something could pop up with them, but for now, the Southwest Regional is the biggest tournament we have scheduled this year.”
Hill, who has been involved with baseball since 1951, says he continues to work at Taylor Field as a hobby.
“At first I was an umpire when I got here, then I volunteered to help here at Taylor Field. If you add it up it all comes to about 60 years,” Hill said. “I’ve been involved in this for that long, and I do it because it is a hobby. Everyone has a hobby, and this is mine. I just like to do it to help the kids. We are willing to help the kids. That is primarily what it is all about.”
Hill was recently honored with naming rights to a new hospitality building that was built on the Taylor Field grounds. The building will offer space for ceremonies, to feed players, workers and media, and more.
“This building isn’t about me. I’m not going to be around here that long, but hopefully, we built it where it will be here for years to come,” Hill said. “This building didn’t cost the city a penny. It was built with private donations. Taylor Field has a lot of friends that help the field, regardless if our ball players are down or up. All you have to do is ask the community and the people and businesses are able to help us. They are going to get tired of me asking for help one of these days, but as long as I’m here I will continue to ask them. There are so many good people in this town.”
In his long history at Taylor Field, Hill has seen several great players who called the field home during their time as high school baseball players.
“No doubt the best player is Torii Hunter,” Hill said. “I used to umpire when Torii was playing, and I used to call a lot of strikes on him. Torii was always a good fielder. He could run, he could catch, and he could field, but he couldn’t hit very well early on.
“But he really came around to put it all together and became great. He is such a great ambassador for this city and has done a lot to help anytime we ask. He has helped UAPB and he has helped us here. Anytime you look around he is around here doing something. He is always the first one to step up to the plate and help us.”
“Mike Jeffcoat was a good one, and Ron Barfield was a good one,” Hill continued. “Basil Shabazz played here, but he never did go up too high. He kind of dropped off somewhere. Mike, Ron, and Torii stayed with it. Torii really got his act together and has done a great job.”
Another great man who graced the field is the incomparable coach Billy Bock. Bock coached Pine Bluff to state titles in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1992 and 1995. His teams finished as state runners-up five times and appeared in 27 state tournaments and won 23 district championships with an overall record of 641–121 (.841). He never had a losing season.
“He was an amazing guy,” Hill said. “He could get it out of them. He was a motivational person. He could talk you into it. He was a good coach.”