Rickey Hill’s life is an incredible story that exemplifies the strength of the human spirit.
Born in Fort Worth to a poor Baptist preacher and his wife Hellen, Hill grew up in the 1960s wearing leg braces due to a degenerative spinal disease. Doctors doubted he would ever walk normally.
But despite the physical challenges, Hill held to a dream of playing baseball. He held tightly to the dream, feeling like it was God’s calling that he would one day play in the major leagues.
Hill’s dad had other aspirations for his son. He wanted to shield him from further physical pain. He wished for his son to follow in his footsteps and become a minister.
The remarkable story of Hill's improbable journey to overcome his challenges and play professional baseball are explored in the “The Hill,” starring screen legend Dennis Quaid as his father, Reverend James Hill. This inspirational true story hit theaters nationally in August.
A young phenomenon, despite pain, adversities
At age four, with his leg braces locked in place, Hill would hit rocks his older brother pitched with a stick. The family lived in poverty and times were hard, with no money to spare for a ball and bat. Every day, Hill would hit rocks, sometimes for 16 hours a day.
When he turned 7, his brother encouraged him to play baseball with the older kids and the young Hill surprised them all with his hitting prowess. By 9, he was playing in a twilight league’s starting lineup, and soon was known as the “home run king.”
He always drew a cross in the dirt each time he came to bat, feeling God’s love and encouragement.
He saved green stamps to buy his first glove and continued to seek a balance between the crippling disease, the pro ball player he wanted to be, his father’s dreams, and what God truly had in store for his life.
When the leg braces were removed, baseball had become natural for Hill. Yet the ups and downs continued to plague him. At 17, he injured his leg on a sprinkler head in the outfield, requiring surgery.
At 18, he was invited to a three-day baseball camp where 700 of the top teenage ball players were competing for a chance at the big leagues. The main tryout field was reserved for the top talent, with Hill stationed at the worst field. Frustrated as he limped around the bases, with his extraordinary batting abilities were overlooked.
Eventually, he tapped the top scout on the shoulder and said, “Sir, the hardest hitter is about to leave this camp. How do I get to the main diamond, where the top players are?”
The scout was skeptical but invited Hill back for the opportunity of a lifetime the next day, where the top 18 talents faced off for the camp finale. Hill was made the designated hitter for both teams, putting on a spectacular display, going 11-for-11, including two singles, five doubles, one triple and three home runs.
As Hill said, he “entered camp as a nobody and came out as a somebody.”
Not long after, he signed with the Montreal Expos and played four seasons in the minors before his body gave out.
Determination and grit
Despite the obstacles life has thrown Rickey’s way, he’s faced those challenges with faith and an unwavering will. He’s been through 49 surgeries, living most of his days in chronic pain. He’s broken nearly every bone and has been in three near-death car accidents. In the last accident, troopers were surprised to find he was still alive.
“My mom always said I was hardheaded,” Hill joked.
When he could no longer play baseball, he found golf and now enjoys both playing and teaching the game to others.
All his life, Hill has moved mountains to climb The Hill. Through many trials, he’s managed to hold dear to his faith and determination.
Today, he plays golf, partnering with famous names like Tony Romo.
Close friend Ron Gourley, Co-Founder, President and CEO of TrendTek Bio, Inc., has encouraged Hill to use his heart and energy to inspire underserved kids to pursue their dreams.
Just like the movie of his life, Hill is about God’s love, faith, perseverance and never letting go of your dream. He hopes to inspire children to do the same.
At age 64, Rickey is giving back to others in a way that would surely make his father proud.
Ron Gourley is a past board member of the local Kids Matter International chapter, which helps children in need through programs that empower them and enhance their lives. He led Rickey to the organization, and on October 23, the sports legend will play in the Kids Matter Eagles Challenge at Lantana Golf Club in Lantana, Texas.
Tournament registration details can be found at eagleschallenge.org.
“Having a film made about my life feels inspirational. It’s God-designed.”