Tacoma native Gary Hill Jr. was never going to reach the major leagues as a baseball player, although he holds one shining moment over a couple of guys who did.
Hill was a starting first baseman on a Stadium High School team in 1995 that upset the state’s powerhouse Class 4A program – South Kitsap High School – which was ranked in the top 10 nationally by USA Today.
That Wolves’ squad was led by professional prospects Willie Bloomquist, Jason Ellison and John Mattson – with the first two standouts going on to big-league careers.
“We were decent, and they were so good,” Hill said. “They had (NCAA Division I) guys all over the place.”
After high school, Hill hung up the glove, and focused on a journey that eventually led him to the big leagues, too. He is a play-by-play radio announcer for the Seattle Mariners.
“He was nuts about baseball then – and still is,” said Shawn McDougall, Hill’s former baseball coach at Stadium.
You could say Hill had play-by-play chops at an early age. He used to practice all the time in his bedroom as a young boy.
“I made up dice games, and would call all the action of a fictional (baseball) game – like the 1985 Mariners versus the 1987 Cardinals,” Hill said. “I remember calling home runs for (outfielder) Willie McGee.”
And yet, after graduating from Stadium in 1995, Hill viewed a sports broadcasting future as an “unrealistic path,” opting instead to go to college in Boston to study psychology and become a therapist.
That is, until he came to his senses one night on campus.
“I was in the library, and it was late at night in the winter, and it was snowing – and all of sudden it hit me like a thunderbolt,” Hill said. “I thought, ‘This is a stupid reason giving up on a dream,’ so I decided to give it a shot and see what happens.”
Hill transferred to Washington State University and finished up undergraduate degrees in journalism and psychology in 2000.
He moved back to Seattle and took on odd jobs while searching for play-by-play gigs. Eventually he landed with Pioneer Sports, and began broadcasting basketball, baseball and softball games at the University of Washington, and basketball games at The Evergreen State College.
“I was doing anything I could get my hands on,” Hill said.
Hill got his big break in 2006 when David Locke vacated his role as the Seattle Storm’s play-by-play announcer to became the new broadcasting voice of the Seattle Supersonics.
Hill was turned down for the Storm position, but Locke was so impressed with his work, the veteran broadcaster made a career recommendation, albeit an unusual one, on how to get hired with the company.
“I took an online course on how to build Websites,” Hill said, “and I was brought on as a (college) intern.”
Hill was on the air for pre- and post-game Sonics shows the last season the team was in Seattle – 2007-08. He also eventually became the Storm’s radio announcer.
After the Mariners hired Hill in 2010 to fill a variety of duties – hosting a team’s podcast, contributing to the Sunday pre-game “Mariners Magazine” segment and as a creative producer, senior vice president of communications and marketing Kevin Martinez told one media outlet that he was the “five-tool ballplayer” in the radio booth.
Last season, after Kevin Cremin retired after 35 years, the organization promoted Hill to the full-time position of executive producer and engineer of Seattle’s radio crew, which also led to regular play-by-play work alongside Rick Rizzs, Aaron Goldsmith, Dave Sims and Mike Blowers.
On the team’s first road trip, Rizzs and Sims suffered freakish injuries during the same pick-up basketball game that immediately kept them off the air indefinitely.
“On the next road trip, not only am I on for every game, I am calling nine innings,” Hill said. “It was wild, man.”
Every once in a while while on the air, if Hill, 42, sees something spectacular or peculiar happen on the field, he immediately refers back to what he learned from his own playing experience.
“That has given me such a base level (of expertise) … on how things work, who should get the cutoff throw and other stuff like that,” said Hill, who married high school sweetheart Mary, and has two children, Baker and Finley.
“It makes a difference when I call games.”