Back on the diamond
Ryan Hilts takes a break from law school to play pro baseball in Germany
Ryan Hilts had just completed his first semester of law school at the University of Oregon last Christmas when he got a call from Jake Shortino, a former baseball teammate and roommate at the University of Utah.
Shortino wanted to know if Hilts was interested in playing professional baseball in Germany.
Hilts and baseball had been as inseparable as Romeo and Juliet since his days in Little League. But after being bypassed in last spring's major league draft, Hilts knew he probably wouldn't be making a living at what he loves most.
And so he headed to law school, a path his father, John, once traveled after a stint in the minor leagues.
But when another opportunity came along to launch a two-run double off the left-field fence, the younger Hilts couldn't let it go by.
The former North Medford High standout left for the Italian Riviera last week for six months of spring training in a German professional league. After that, he?ll head to Germany, where he and Shortino will join a team in Heidenheim for a 60-game schedule that kicks off on March 27.
Baseball's in my blood, Hilts, 24, says. When you've spent all the hours I have playing it, it turns into your life.
I'm not ready to give it up right now, and I don't know if I ever will.
Each team in the German league is allowed two American or two Cuban players, Hilts says, adding that he and Shortino will be expected to help their Heidenheim teammates on the fundamentals of the game.
The pay is minimal, but Hilts will pick up extra income by working at youth clinics.
They want us to teach the kids the game, says Hilts, a shortstop and outfielder. From what I understand, baseball is just developing over there.
And few probably grasp it better than Hilts. He has played the game since he was six, and while in high school an uncle rigged up a pitching machine in his backyard.
I went out there at all hours of the day and hit, Hilts says. I got live pitching anytime I wanted it. For a couple years there, I doubt my neighbor ever got a nap.
Hilts batted over .500 his senior year at North Medford and earned a scholarship to Oregon State. But he never hit it off with Beaver coach Pat Casey and transferred to Utah in the fall of 1996.
Hilts had a couple of good seasons with Utah, hitting .330 with 20 stolen bases during his senior year in 1999. But the Utes never made the Western Athletic Conference playoffs and thus never advanced to the NCAA tournament, where added exposure might have enabled Hilts to get drafted.
Going to Utah was still the best move I ever made, Hilts says. We didn't have great teams but the coaches were great and the school was awesome.
Hilts obtained a bachelor's degree in sociology with a minor in chemistry.
He entered law school last fall, but knew all along his passion was baseball. He got into coaching last summer when he took over the head coaching duties of the South Medford Colts, an American Legion team.
Law school went real well and I'm keeping my options open, says Hilts, who was granted a leave of absence from the UO Law School to go overseas. But my heart lies in baseball and coaching.
I'm going over there (Germany) and play until they tell me I can't.