Jim Hill, the icon of Pine Bluff baseball, passed Tuesday, October 1. Hill, a member of the Southwest Regional Babe Ruth and Babe Ruth Hall of Fame maintained Pine Bluff’s Taylor Field for many years.
In his long history at Taylor Field, Hill was able to see several great players who called the field home during their time as high school baseball players.
“No doubt the best player is Torii Hunter,” said Hill in an interview with Pine Bluff Commercial in February. “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.”
Hill spoke highly of Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Torii Hunter, and Hunter returned the show of love Wednesday evening as he spoke about what Hill meant to him.
“You are talking about somebody that he was the last of that baseball history in Pine Bluff for me,” said Hunter. “For me, I was a five year old kid who went to watch his uncle play for Pine Bluff National Bank at Taylor Field, and (Hill) would give me a dollar for every foul ball that I retrieved. I tried to recover all of the foul balls that I could so I could get that money. Then later on I ended up playing in the league, and he was the umpire. I used to tell him I thought he was a horrible umpire because he would call strikes. I would tell him ‘Hey man, that was a ball!’ and he would say ‘I just call them like I see them, Torii.’ But he was there for me all of the time. He was a good umpire, but he was tough. That outside corner, he gave it all of the time.”
Hunter remembers when he was drafted into Major League Baseball Hill prepared Taylor Field for him to take batting practice before he left Pine Bluff.
“When I got drafted he would have the field ready for me to come hit,” said Hunter. “I was like ‘Wow, this guy is amazing!’ With me playing pro ball anytime he needed help I would always try to help him, or find someone who could help him as much as I could. I always answered his phone calls, we always talked on the phone, and we always had a relationship. I’m 44 now, so it has been almost 40 years that I have known him.”
Hunter said that he believes Hill leaves a legacy to not too many others will be able to leave in Pine Bluff.
“We would get together so I could speak to kids and talk with them about their personal lives. He was always the one to step up and help someone grow in life,” Hunter said. “No one can say anything bad about him. He is always trying to help someone reach their full potential and reach the next level in life weather it was baseball, or something else in life. The legacy he left in Pine Bluff is a legacy that not too many people will leave like he did.”
Hunter spoke about all of the people that Hill would mentor.
“He had so many people he would mentor,” said Hunter. “I feel like you haven’t done anything in life unless you have left a legacy for your family name, and have mentee’s. Not mentors, but mentee’s. Someone you mentor under your to help them grow in life. He had many mentee’s and he left a legacy for his family. For him I gave him flowers while he was here, and I’m going to give him flowers now that he is gone. There are many people who benefitted from how he lived his life.”
When Hill needed money for projects, Hunter knew he needed every dime he asked for, and he wasn’t going to abuse it in any way.
“He wasn’t going to go gamble it away, he wasn’t going to go blow it on anything or use it for anything in his personal life. He was going to put everything towards that baseball field,” Hunter said. “If he needed lights, all of it was going towards the lights. If he wanted to fix up the skybox, all of it was going towards the skybox, the bleachers, paint, and the field. I knew that, and he was adamant about showing us what he did with (the money). After a while I just told him if he needed something to just call me. He didn’t need much. He would call maybe once per year, and I never turned him down because he did what he said he was going to do.”
Hunter said that no one was better at preparing a baseball field than Jim Hill.
“If there was one thing he could do it was to prepare a field and make it game ready,” said Hunter. “I don’t know of anybody who is going to put the time and the love into manicuring baseball fields and taking care of baseball fields like this man. You talk about baseball history and the love of the game, we lost a good one. We lost almost our last piece of saving baseball in Pine Bluff. Who is going to take that role? Who is going to take that lead? Who is going to put that together? I don’t know too many people. I don’t know another Jim Hill.”
Hunter said that Hill had a love for people regardless of the background they came from.
“This is a piece of baseball history in Pine Bluff, and we have lost a good one. Not just in baseball, but we have lost a good man,” Hunter said. “When someone can talk about you in a good light the way everyone talks about him, it has got to be true. All of these people say pretty much the same thing. We have lost a good one. I love that man. He didn’t care what background you came from, he didn’t care what color you were, he was willing to help you. I don’t care who you were, what you were, how poor you were, your race, or where you were from, it didn’t matter. He loved kids and to get the most out of kids. You could hear it in his voice.”
Hunter also said that many people talk about what needs to be done, but Jim Hill would go out and get it done.
“There are a lot of people who will talk about what needs to be done in Pine Bluff, but he was the one who was doing it,” Hunter said. “He wasn’t talking, he was getting it done. People talk all day, but some people rarely go out and do what they say they are going to do. Jim Hill did what he said he was going to do. He was one of a kind. I love him.”
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.