MIAMI -- For the first time in about 30 years, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill will not be at a ballpark or baseball field in some capacity on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
One of two African-Americans to preside over baseball operations for a Major League club -- along with Ken Williams of the White Sox -- Hill and the rest of MLB will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day at home this year.
The Marlins were originally scheduled to face the Angels at Marlins Park on Wednesday, April 15, traditionally the date that all players throughout the Majors wear No. 42 in honor of Robinson.
To Hill, not being at the ballpark for the occasion doesn’t diminish its significance.
“It's still a tremendous day of pride, because the day is still there, and it's still a huge part of the history of this game,” Hill said in an interview with MLB.com. “If that day doesn't happen, then we don't get that opportunity to wear 42. I may not get that opportunity to do what I do.”
Hill, who is also half-Cuban and speaks Spanish fluently, is in his seventh season as Miami’s president of baseball operations. The 49-year-old has been an executive with the organization for the past 18 seasons, and each year April 15 is personally special.
“Obviously, it will be a little different; the fact that we don't get to celebrate him in front of fans and get to see just how important he is to the game on the field,” Hill said. “But it doesn't diminish just how important he is and what he means to our game.
“[No. 42] is the one uniform retired throughout Major League Baseball, because he was such an impactful and important person in our game.”
A native of Cincinnati, Hill was a three-sport standout in high school, playing baseball, football and basketball. He went on to become a baseball and football star at Harvard University.
Now in his 25th season in a league front-office capacity, Hill previously worked in the Rockies and Rays organizations.
As a freshman at Harvard in 1990, he participated in the first Baseball Beanpot, a prominent annual competition that features Harvard, Boston College, Northeastern and Boston University.
“I actually played left field at Fenway my freshman year,” Hill said. “I hit my fair share of balls off the [Green Monster] as a lefty -- never cleared it. I didn't have enough launch angle. But I did hit one over the bullpen in right. I went over the bullpen.
“That, obviously, was a tremendous memory for me, playing nine times in Fenway. Then, I went 3-1 against Yale as a football player.”
Drafted by the Rangers in the 31st round in 1993, Hill played two seasons in Texas’ system and one with the Reds. Sensing he wasn’t tracking toward the big leagues, Hill transitioned from playing to joining the Rays’ front office in ’95.
“That's everyone's childhood dream, to play professionally,” Hill said. “I was fortunate enough to play two sports and graduate from Harvard. You didn't know if you would get drafted, coming out of an Ivy League school. I was very blessed and fortunate that the Rangers took a liking [to me] and gave me a chance to play professional baseball.”
In today’s game, MLB front offices are filled with former Ivy Leaguers. Hill was at the forefront of the trend.
Ben Crockett, vice president of player development for the Red Sox; Jeff Bridich, Rockies executive vice president and general manager; David Forst, general manager of the Athletics; and Peter Woodfork, MLB's senior vice president of baseball operations, all previously played baseball at Harvard.
When Hill was with the Rockies in 2002, he drafted Crockett in the third round.
“I remember speaking to all of them when they were in college,” Hill said.
Throughout the years, Hill has frequently spoken to students, including many African Americans, about the opportunities that are available for them in baseball.
Early in Spring Training this year, Hill and Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter, along with players -- Monte Harrison, Jazz Chisholm and Sterling Sharp -- addressed Palm Beach County students at the club’s complex in Jupiter, Fla.
“It's a great opportunity for us to share our stories and let young people know that this is a tremendous sport that we all love and devoted our careers to,” Hill said. “If there is an opportunity, they should consider it. There are so many options out there for kids. When you're talking about sports, we're competing with so many other sports. I caught my baseball bug when I was very young.”