Distinctly Different


Baseball, in many ways, is like life. Comprised of a collection of little moments over the course of a nine-inning game, each pitch has the potential to be the defining moment. Even when everything seems to be going exactly as it should, victory isn’t guaranteed. That’s why Rich Hill, entering his 13th year in charge of USD’s baseball program and 24th overall as a college head coach, doesn’t let up. He doesn’t want his players to, either.

“Be the difference,” Hill says. It’s a motto that’s delivered West Coast Conference titles in three of the last four years and four NCAA postseason appearances in the last five.

“I’m fired up as much now as I was when I took my first college coaching job 24 years ago,” he says from his spot in the stands of Cunningham Stadium. He keeps glancing over to watch his players go through defensive drills during November’s NCAA-approved fall ball season, months before USD’s season-opening game at home against Vanderbilt.

Learning the “Torero way” under Hill’s direction isn’t limited to the field. On this day, players and coaches are split into two groups. The winning team from the previous day’s scrimmage has first pick of two Saturday morning community service activities. The choices? To be volunteers for a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation charity walk at Balboa Park or to arrive at Cunningham Stadium bright and early to prepare the field and work with 130 enthusiastic children for a free baseball clinic.

“It’s a chance to bring the mission of the university into the fold,” Hill says of the community service component. “They learn a lot in these environments. It’s really good for our guys.”

It’s especially important for the 2011 Toreros to understand. After losing a WCC-record 10 players and four potential recruits to June’s MLB draft, Hill and his staff had work to do. The coach calls this team his “most eclectic.” The roster has a handful of fifth-year seniors, some juniors and sophomores and a bevy of new recruits that Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America rank as the second and fourth best class in the country, respectively.

Newcomers include community college transfers Julian Duran and Corey LeVier and freshmen Dylan Covey, Tyler Painton, Kris Bryant and Michael Wagner.

Covey’s journey to USD is noteworthy. The Milwaukee Brewers’ first-round pick in June was ready to sign, but a required physical exam revealed that the right-handed pitcher was a Type 1 diabetic. The news, at first, was devastating. The family said there was no prior family history of diabetes. The Brewers said they’d work with Covey, but it didn’t take long to realize that Plan B was more like Plan A.

“It was never thought of as a backup plan,” Covey says about choosing USD. “It was a relief. My family and I felt USD was a better choice. The medical people have been on board with everything and they’ve made it an easier transition for me.”

Hill says Covey’s support system will continue to be important. “USD is a much better environment for him than if he was in the minor leagues. Dylan’s got a lot of people who can give him the personal attention he needs as a pitcher, to develop as a young man and help him manage his diabetes and help him thrive.” — Ryan T. Blystone