Rutgers Baseball Head Coach Fred Hill Sr
One Class Act
by Dan Cleary
PISCATAWAY, N.J—There is a certain buzz surrounding the athletic program at Rutgers University these days.
The football team has gained notoriety with its emergence as a player on the national scene under Jersey native Greg Schiano. C. Vivian Stringer guided the Scarlet Knights to the NCAA Division I women’s basketball national championship game last spring, while showing dignity and class throughout the unfortunate situation involving radio personality Don Imus.
But there is another coach that plies his trade at the State University of New Jersey located “On the Banks of the Raritan” that deserves just as many accolades as Schiano and Stringer, and is as Jersey as diner food and summers at The Shore.
Fred Hill Sr., an Essex County native, has molded the Scarlet Knights into one of the top Division I programs in the nation in his 25 years at the helm, while flying under the national radar, which is probably just fine with him.
“Coach Hill is one of the class acts in all of college baseball,” praised former Scarlet Knights outfielder and current New York Yankees farmhand David Williams, who played under Hill for four seasons before getting drafted by the Bronx Bombers in the 15th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Williams, a former standout at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, N.J., led the BIG EAST in hitting and was ranked 17th nationally with his .412 batting average in 2007.
“His passion is unrivaled. He just outworks everyone,” added Williams, who hit .276 for the Class A Staten Island Yankees in the New York-Penn League last summer. “Although we are in the Northeast and we don’t get outside much early in the season, we work just as hard as anyone else in the country. You get better when you play at Rutgers for Coach Hill and his staff. They will make you better and my dream was to always play professional baseball and they helped me realize that. You can’t beat the coaching you get at Rutgers. I had a great four years there.”
Hill guided the Scarlet Knights to a school record-tying 42-21 record in 2007 and a 20-7 mark in BIG EAST play en route to the regular season and conference tournament championships with a roster littered with a bumper crop of some of Jersey’s best homegrown talent. Rutgers, which has won three Big East championships in the last 10 years, also qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the 13th time under Hill where it fell to 2006 national champion Oregon State at the Charlottesville (Va.) Regional.
Hill comes into the 2008 season with an amazing 935-578-8 (.617) record in 32 seasons as a collegiate coach, which includes a stellar 787-472-6 (.625) record with the Scarlet Knights. Hill began his college coaching career with a successful stint at Montclair State University from 1977-1983 where he went 148-91-2 (.619) and led Montclair to two New Jersey Athletic Conference titles and an appearance in the 1983 Division III World Series.
The numbers Hill has put together at Rutgers are staggering and what makes them even more impressive is that Hill has done it with mostly New Jersey kids and with just 11.7 scholarships available for a 35-man roster. To put that in perspective, the RU softball team has 17 members and 12 scholarships, while the women’s basketball team receives 15 and the men 13.
But you won’t hear Hill complain about it because that is not his style. Plus, you won’t hear him take credit for the Knights’ success, either.
“There are a lot of good players in New Jersey and if we can get the top ones in New Jersey, we can be competitive with anyone in the country,” said Hill, an old school coach who can still relate to today’s players. “You get the same opportunity to play professional ball as you would in Texas, Florida and California. You can be a great player out of the Northeast.
“Plus you will receive a quality education at Rutgers and that is first and foremost,” added Hill. “Also, our assistant coaches do a great job with our kids and work with them year round. No one works harder than them.”
Hill’s assistants are top notch and include former Rutgers All-American Glen Gardner, Rick Freeman and Jay Blackwell. The coaches, along with Hill, developed one of the deepest talent pools in school history which resulted in a school-record six Scarlet Knights getting a call from a Major League team at last June’s draft.
Junior All-American shortstop Todd Frazier of Toms River led the way and was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the first round with the 34th overall pick. Frazier, whose older brother Jeff was a star at Rutgers and is currently in the Seattle Mariners organization, owns numerous school records and was named the BIG EAST Player of the year after hitting .377 with 22 home runs and 65 RBI in 63 games played.
“We had a great season,” said Frazier, who hit .319 in 41 games at Class A Billings in the rookie Pioneer League before a short, but successful stint at Dayton, where he hit .319 in six games for the Dragons of the long-season Class A Midwest League. “I had a great three years and Coach Hill was a class act all the way. He really stresses fundamentals and was a big influence on me.”
On the second day of the draft, Williams, junior left fielder Ryan Hill of Hillsdale, junior catcher Frank Meade of Linden, senior second baseman Mike Bionde of Pompton Plains and red-shirt sophomore first baseman Tom Edwards of Caldwell all received the call of a lifetime.
Hill was taken in the 15th round by the San Diego Padres after hitting .350 with 11 dingers for the Scarlet Knights. In his first professional season, Hill hit .213 in 49games for the rookie league Class A Arizona League Padres.
Meade, who split time at designated hitter and catcher, provided the Scarlet Knights with some pop and belted 11 homers. He was also selected by the Reds in 24th round and hit .211 at Billings.
Bionde, one of the slickest fielding second baseman in the country, won the Rawlings Gold Glove Award for the Knights and was a pesky No. 2 hitter with his .302 average. He was picked in the 35th round by the Kansas City Royals, and he hit .228 for the Class A Idaho Falls Chukars. The Royals know all about the quality of Rutgers baseball players. Former RU star David DeJesus hit .260 for the Royals last summer and is one of two former Knights in the bigs, joining Jason Bergman of the Washington Nationals. Bergman went 6-6 in 21 starts for the National League East squad.
Edwards was selected in the 41st round by the Rangers, but opted to come back to the Knights and he is currently one of the team leaders. Edwards was almost perfect in the field at first base and made just three errors, while hitting .340 from the No. 5 slot in the order.
Current Rutgers freshman infielder Jaren Matthews was also picked after a stellar senior season at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey. Matthews, who hit .500 with five homers and 33 RBI for the Bergen County Tournament-champion Ironmen, turned down the Boston Red Sox after being selected in the 17th round.
“That was a plus and minus,” said Hill of having so many players being drafted and signed. “I’m very happy for our players who got drafted and decided to go. They have all done well, especially Todd Frazier, who has opened some eyes in the Cincinnati chain. We would have loved to have the three juniors back to be the nucleus of the team. But we are happy for all the kids because they realized their goal, plus they will have the opportunity to still graduate and that is important.”
Although the Knights took a big hit due to the draft, the cupboard is far from bare with the return of Edwards, and an experienced pitching staff anchored by former Toms River star Casey Gaynor, who played with Frazier on the 1998 Little League World Championship team from Toms River.
“We’re excited about the season,” said Hill. “We have good returning pitching and that’s a plus. We only have three starters back, but some of the back-ups from last year are real quality players and now is their time and we will give them all a shot.
“We think our freshmen class is very good with Jaren Matthews, D.J Anderson (Delbarton), Brandon Boykin (Don Bosco Prep), Pat Biserta (Point Pleasant Boro), Russ Hopkins (Piscataway), and Michael Lang (St. Peter’s Prep),” added Hill of the Jersey products. “It makes our situation more competitive when you have quality kids.”
Hill and the Scarlet Knights have already locked up a terrific signing class for 2009, which includes much-heralded Jersey stars lefty pitcher Steven Zavala of Randolph, right-hander Charlie Law of Mainland Regional, catchers Jeff Melillo of North Hunterdon and Justin Olsen of Westfield, and utility player Ryan Kapp of Toms River South.
“We think it is a good class,” said Hill. “The high school coaches in New Jersey do such an outstanding job, it makes it easy for us to recruit and stay local. The kids come to us well-grounded and ready to go.”
Law just might be the pick of the litter. The 6-foot-7 righty, who was profiled by New Jersey Baseball Magazine last year, can pitch and hit. He went 7-3 last year with a 1.24 ERA and he is still getting stronger. He also hit .455 and had a great summer at various tournaments across the country.
“It is an excellent get for us,” said Hill of Law, who comes from a baseball family and whose father played at Monmouth. “I think we will be going against the pro teams in June because we think he is a real prospect. We are very high on him and we think he can pitch and hit for us. But all the kids are quality and come from quality programs.”
And when you think of quality programs, Rutgers goes right to the top of the Hill.
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