Ray Hill, Ball Player

Grandpa Hill poses with one of his baseball bats.
Grandpa Hill poses with one of his baseball bats.

Yesterday, while visiting my grandmother in the hospital, I learned that my grandfather, Raymond Hill, was quite a softball player. Normally he played third base, but he would occasionally pitch as well. He preferred third base.

Everyone called him Ray. I don’t recall anything about him. He died before I was born.

Years ago, my uncle, the one who was born during the incredible winter of 1948, discovered a copy of a photograph of him posing with some of his brothers in their uniforms in the museum in Maxwell. I assume this was from his younger days, when he was living in Iowa, before he had played on any teams in South Dakota.

Apparently, in South Dakota he first played for the Lake Preston Divers, a fact even my father didn’t know.1 But he was a very young kid at the time. Once, he and my grandmother had to leave Dad and his co-horts, my aunt and uncle, behind. There was a tournament in Rapid City and the kids couldn’t tag along for some reason.

Dad did go to at least one tournament. Dad was just a young boy, goofing around in the stands as kids do, until he noticed that his father was at the plate, and he thought he’d better pay attention. Dad remembers him smacking a fastball off a very good red-headed pitcher, who subsequently pitched around him for the remainder of the game. Dad thought it was a homerun, and it nearly was. That young boy was obviously impressed. You can tell by the way he retells the story.

That red-haired pitcher had intentionally walked the previous batter, the first baseman of the Divers. He was a tall, lanky fellow who couldn’t run well. I’m wondering if this was a ruse to get Grandpa to hit into a double play. But, in any event, if it was, it didn’t work.

At first, the big man who couldn’t run well waited and watched the ball fly into the outfield. He was in between first and second, unsure if he should run or not. Of course, anyone who knows anything about baseball or softball knows indecision while running the bases and while a ball is in play is a recipe for disaster.2 Meanwhile, the crowd was yelling at him to get going, which he eventually did. However, Grandpa was right behind him, rounding first and quickly catching up with him.

The third base coach waved the slow, lanky first baseman in to home plate, who barely beat the throw. Scoring a run is good, but like most things, two is better. Unfortunately, Grandpa was left behind on third. Dad says he probably could have scored with a quicker man in front of him, for an inside the park homerun, but had to settle for a still impressive triple. It ended in a 1-3 loss for the Divers, Grandpa delivering the only run.

My dad described Grandpa’s glove as a classic, with none of the webbing seen in modern-day gloves. He compared it to something Babe Ruth would have used. Often he’d come home with a very red hand, Dad recalled.

Grandpa played for quite a few years. Later, he would be the oldest man on the squad, surrounded by much younger men. He apparently played for the team in Bryant and at least one other, the name I can’t remember.3

He was closing in on fifty when he had to quit. Grandma says he was in the first stages of emphyesma and couldn’t run like he used to.

I’ll see about getting some more details from Dad and Grandma, perhaps today when I stop to visit her at the hospital. By the way, Grandma has a new hip and is doing well. She should be leaving the hospital tomorrow, at least that’s the plan.


I visited Grandma again the day after I posted this, and she corrected and added a few details.

1. I mistakenly thought the Lake Preston team was known as the Tigers. They were in fact the Divers.

2. It’s a common problem among inexperienced players, particularly the young, so it is odd that an older player would be so hesitant, but his lack of speed probably weighed heavily on his mind.

3. According to Grandma, Ray Hill played for four teams while living in South Dakota: the Bryant Bombers, Erwin Eagles, Lake Preston Divers, and the team in Lake Norden, whose mascot she couldn’t remember.

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