November 3, 2007
TOKYO (AP) -- Even though Trey Hillman's departure from Japan was less than perfect, he's ready for the next challenge as manager of the Kansas City Royals.
Hillman managed his last game in Japan on Thursday when his Nippon Ham Fighters were on the losing end of a perfect game in the finale of the Japan Series.
The 44-year-old Hillman had never played, coached or managed in the majors. But he was successful as a minor league manager, and the Fighters played in the Japan Series for the second consecutive year after winning Japan's version of the World Series in 2006.
Hillman rejects the notion that his lack of major league experience will be a problem.
"I've done it in the trenches," said Hillman, who has been a successful manager everywhere he's been. "The best managers adapt to the strength of the ballclub."
If Hillman can do for the Royals what he achieved with the Fighters, he'll be a success in the majors.
When he arrived in Japan in 2003, Hillman took over a team that played to small crowds and hadn't won a title since the 1960s.
Despite being last in almost every offensive category this season, Hillman led the Fighters to the pennant and said that experience should be valuable for what awaits in Kansas City.
"There isn't a lot of slug where I'm going unless that's addressed in the offseason," Hillman said Friday. "Hopefully, the players I'll have next year will be open to various ways of scoring runs. "I like to run, use the bunt, the hit-and-run."
The Royals finished last with a 69-93 record. The team hit the fewest homers in the American League (102) and had the fourth-lowest batting average (.261).
But with a core of young players, the Royals look set to turn the corner and Hillman is excited about the future in Kansas City.
"I got to meet some of the players and was elated by the excitement those players and the front office expressed," said Hillman. "We've got some good players, a core group to build around, pitchers like (Zack) Greinke, (Gil) Meche and (Brian) Bannister."
Hillman said payroll issues are something that are beyond his control.
"That's something I've dealt with in Japan," Hillman said. "I know the payroll is a factor to some degree but I also know it's something I can't control. If we show that things are heading in the right direction hopefully that will improve but it's not something I'm worried about."