TUMWATER — Clay Hill was torn between being a coach and being a parent.
The longtime Tumwater High School fastpitch coach – who, in 15 years, never had a losing season while leading the Thunderbirds to two state title game appearances – had a conflict. He could continue coaching a talent-laden fastpitch program that played in the 2012 Class 2A state title game, or watch his son, sophomore Elijah, play baseball.
Parenting won. And so did coaching, but in a different way.
Clay Hill’s experience coaching fastpitch and playing baseball in the Seattle Mariners organization made him a good fit as an assistant for head baseball coach Jamie Weeks on the Tumwater staff. Now, Hill gets to see his son play and he gets to keep coaching.
“It’s been a great experience,” Hill said. “I had no real big expectations. I was trying to fit in as the new guy. They let me throw in my two cents here and there.”
Hill has a shot at another state title game this weekend, because the T-Birds (17-7) are in the state semifinals for the first time in school history. They face Archbishop Murphy (23-2) at 4 p.m. Friday at Yakima’s County Stadium.
Red-hot Tumwater has won 10 of its past 11, including wins over Fife and North Kitsap at the 2A regional in Yelm last weekend. Elijah Hill was the winning pitcher in the state quarterfinal against North Kitsap, allowing just four hits in a 3-0 victory.
Weeks sees Tumwater fastpitch’s loss as his gain, and he knew Hill would be an asset. So much so that he sought out Hill last fall to discuss having him join his staff.
Hill, who primarily works with the infielders and coaches first base for the T-Birds, graduated from Capital High in 1977, and was a 19th-round draft pick by the Mariners out of Washington State in 1981. He played for the organization for six seasons – including two at Triple-A Calgary – before he finished up in 1988.
Weeks recalled Hill’s reaction to joining his staff being like a child on Christmas morning.
“He had a huge smile on his face,” Weeks said.
Hill jokes that Elijah, who boasts a 5-0 record and an ERA of 0.91, pitched better last year when his dad didn’t watch as much. Clay Hill said he saw six of Tumwater’s games last spring.
When Elijah made his varsity debut April 12, 2012, he and teammate Garrett Terrell combined to throw a no-hitter in a 2-1 win over River Ridge. Clay Hill saw only the first inning because the fastpitch team had a game on its field across campus.
Hill acknowledges that relinquishing his fastpitch duties was a hard decision but the right one.
“It was more for me,” said Hill, who coached Tumwater to a 3A state title in 2006. “It was very difficult.”
Having his father on the field isn’t new for Elijah, and his father’s catching background has helped with Elijah’s development as a pitcher.
“He’s taught me how to throw different pitches, and I’m getting bigger and stronger and more mature about it,” Elijah said. “He knows what to look for. …
“He coaches me harder than anyone else.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick