Sunday, August 8, 2010
#418) ERIC HILLMAN
Eric Hillman was selected by the New York Mets in the 16th round of the 1987 free agent draft. The left-hander began his professional baseball career in the minor leagues. The 6-foot 10-inch tall pitcher drew obvious comparisons to the more famous Randy Johnson. "I'm fine being Eric Hillman," he explained. "He strikes them out. I let them ground out."
The tallest pitcher in New York Mets history made his major-league debut on May 18, 1992. Coming into the game in relief of Dwight Gooden and tossing a scoreless eighth inning of a 3-0 loss to the Padres in San Diego. Following a second relief appearance that same series he was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk.
When he returned it was as a starting pitcher. Hillman made his Shea Stadium debut by arriving on an early morning flight the day of that evening's game. "I walked out and it sure looked like every baseball field I had ever pitched on," observed Eric. "The dimensions were the same. I wanted to take that attitude to the field." His results were terrific as he limited the Pittsburgh Pirates to six hits in his eight innings of work in a 2-0 Mets victory. Hillman had worked with a sports psychologist who helped him visualize success. "I see my pitches winding up in certain spots," he explained. "I see groundballs."
Eric was part of the Mets starting rotation to begin the 1993 season. He struggled early and failed to record a victory in his first 13 appearances. Some of which included his return to the bullpen and then back to Triple-A Norfolk. Hillman's first win of the year came in a complete-game shutout facing the Los Angeles Dodgers. "You've got to give Eric a lot of credit," Mets Manager Dallas Green commented afterward. "He did a lot of the things that we sent him down for, staying ahead of hitters, using all his stuff, bunting the ball." Hillman would end the year with a 2-9 record and 3.97 ERA. Asked to describe the disappointing 1993 campaign that saw the Mets lose 103 games, "The Three Stooges are the image for me and the Mets'" Eric said. "There is one scene in an episode where the three are in a boat with a leak. Moe and Larry are bailing it out while Curly is drilling another one. Absolute chaos I think is the phrase."
The southpaw was facing the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium on May 4, 1994 when he surrendered a home run to Barry Bonds. During his next trip to the plate Hillman hit the slugger with a pitch. A matter that Barry took great exception to. "If he hits me again, I'm chasing him around the clubhouse and out of the clubhouse," Bonds told reporters. "I'll take my bat out to the mound if he starts running away. They're going to have to restrain me because I'm going to come after him all day." Eric repeatedly stated that the incident was unintentional and the comments undeserving of a response. Right before the Major League Baseball strike occurred, with a record of 0-3 and a 7.79 ERA, he was optioned back to Triple-A to finish the season. Hillman went 10-1 for Norfolk.
He was granted free agency on October 15, 1994. Hillman followed his Norfolk manager, Bobby Valentine to sign with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan in 1995. Eric teamed up with pitchers Hideki Irabu and Satoru Komiyama to form a strong rotation. In his second year with the Marines he was selected the Pacific League's Best Nine pitcher with a 14-9 record and 2.40 ERA. Hillman signed with the Yomiuri Giants for the 1997 season, but injuries limited him to just six innings and ended his career.
Eric Hillman signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on April 30, 2009.