The backbone of baseball in Jefferson County, Jim Hill, passed away Tuesday, October 1st. Hill was known for the upkeep of Pine Bluff’s Taylor Field, in addition to helping prepare fields for local high school teams, UAPB Baseball, and numerous Babe Ruth Baseball tournament and World Series locations.
Hill was also a member of the Babe Ruth Southwest Regional Hall of Fame, in addition to the Babe Ruth Hall of Fame
UAPB head baseball coach Carlos James said Hill is an icon to Pine Bluff.
“Mr. Hill is an icon to me in Pine Bluff,” said James. “I knew him in my earlier years coming through playing at Taylor Field, knowing him from being an umpire, things he did in the community. The good thing is as I got older I got to know him as a friend, which made it even more special. You’re talking about a guy who had a wealth of knowledge about everything. For me, there is a hole that is going to be left when you talk about baseball and you get to go to Taylor Field, and you’re not going to get to hear that voice. He had a unique voice and a unique way of talking to you and having a relationship with you.”
James said that Hill would show up at the Torii Hunter Baseball Complex on the campus of UAPB to help at different times.
“He would even come out to our field and look and we would talk about certain things,” James said. “That is one of the things I am going to miss about him. Just his presence. Having a guy like that to look up to and admire over the years, and for him not to be here to be able to call on in certain situations. I frequently called on him about situations with my field and how to deal with certain things in the community. He is going to be missed by me a lot.”
White Hall head baseball coach Shane Harp received his first Babe Ruth coaching job from Hill, and shared memories he has of the Pine Bluff baseball icon.
“I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking about I remember playing ball many years ago. That is how I met him, by playing Babe Ruth, because that is what he was a part of,” said Harp. “I really didn’t get to know him personally until I started coaching Babe Ruth. I coached Little League for a year at the Eastern League, but the year after that I moved to Babe Ruth on the big field. That is when I really got to know Mr. Hill and who he was, and what he was really about. He was the guy who gave me my first opportunity to coach on a big field.”
Harp said that no one will ever replace Jim Hill.
“You’re not ever going to replace him,” said Harp. “There are people out there hopefully that will step up, but it is just going to be one of those things. He was the guy who made you feel like he was your biggest fan, but he was everyone’s biggest fan. He was just that way.”
Another long-time friend of Hill is Simmons First CEO and MK Distributors President George Makris. Makris said Hill was one of the finest men he has ever known.
“I can tell you this, I have never met a man who was more unselfish with his time and his effort with his resources than Jim Hill,” said Makris. “I’ve been around baseball all of my life, and it has meant so much to my family, and Jim Hill has been such an important part of that all of our lives. Jim took personal pride in the success of baseball and the youth programs in Pine Bluff, and it didn’t have to be one he was directly involved with. When we dedicated the Simmons Bank Pavilion at the baseball field, the only guy you could count on who would be there for every good thing was Jim Hill. We have got a huge void to fill in youth athletics in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, but even more than that I will tell you Jim Hill was one of the finest people I have ever known.”
Makris also said that his business helped to support Hill and projects that he needed help with for many years.
“We have supported a lot through our family business personally, then at Simmons Bank for years and years and years,” said Makris. “He was the only guy who had a blank check when he came to see us because I knew that 100 percent of what he asked for was going to go for the benefit of the programs he would work with. That is because he had so much credibility. You never had to say ‘Now Jim, do you really need that much money?’ because you knew that he needed every nickel that he asked for, and he never abused that relationship at all. That is a quality that is hard to find in today’s society, I can promise you that.”
James Wagoner, Chairman of the Board of Babe Ruth baseball, said that Hill has been involved with Babe Ruth baseball for many years in many roles.
“I recommended Jim to be on our board in 1992,” said Wagoner. “He has been in the program since 1964. He worked a regional tournament as an umpire in 1964 and 1965 with his close friend Eddie Bryant. One of the things that Jim has always done was to take tournaments so it would benefit Pine Bluff economically. Anytime we needed a place to go, Jim would take it every time. He had numerous regional tournaments which sent teams to the World Series. He was normally the tournament director, and I’m telling you, Jim put on the best tournaments ever.”
Wagoner said that Hill hosted several Babe Ruth World Series tournaments as well.
“I can’t tell you how many World Series Jim had, but it was numerous,” Wagoner said. “He even had President Bill Clinton come out and throw the first pitch several times. The President wouldn’t just throw the pitch then leave, he would always hang around to talk with Jim for four of five innings before he had to go.”
Wagoner said that Hill was the most influential person for Babe Ruth Baseball in the State of Arkansas.
“I will say this about Jim Hill, he was the most influential person for Babe Ruth ball,” said Wagoner. “He was a tremendous person and I respect him to no end. He was Mr. Babe Ruth for the State of Arkansas. I don’t know of anyone who put their heart and soul physically and mentally into baseball more than Jim Hill has. He deserves any accolades he could get. You couldn’t print enough stories to talk about Jim Hill, I’ll tell you that.”
Hill spoke with the Pine Bluff Commercial during the 2019 Southwest Regional Babe Ruth baseball tournament about his time around baseball. Hill stated he worked 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 as 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, but Hill was quick to note the building was not about him.
“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.”
Jim Hill’s visitation will be from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Friday at Olive Branch Missionary Baptist Church. His funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Olive Branch Missionary Baptist Church, with his interment taking place at Oak Grove Cemetery in Lonoke County. Services and interment will be conducted by Ralph Robinson and Son’s Funeral Directors.