Jon Hill had one of the best performances of his baseball career in his final high school game.
It took place 23 years ago, when Hill was part of Liberty’s state championship team. The Lions finished the 1997 season by beating Centennial 9-3 to take the Class 3A title ― the first boys state crown of any kind in school history.
Hill clubbed a three-run home run in the first inning, and added a three-run triple in the fourth. In the sixth, he moved from third base to the mound and came on in relief to get the final four outs.
Not a bad way to go out. But Hill said he doesn’t reminisce too often.
“That’s what they remember about me from high school,” he said. “I look back on it now, and in the grand scheme of things, in my life, that’s such a small moment. It’s fun to remember, but it’s not something that I dwell on or I live in that moment.”
Hill graduated that spring, after earning Times first-team all-county honors, but baseball didn’t come to an end. He headed to Gardner-Webb University for one year, then returned home and found a spot at Frederick Community College.
Hill also spent part of his summers playing in the South Penn League, first with Union Bridge as a junior in high school and then with Taneytown when the Cardinals were a perennial contender. The Cards dominated in the 1990s but folded in 2000.
Hill, who was pursuing a career in law enforcement, said around that time he had a decision to make. He applied for a position with Maryland State Police and figured the process might take a few years so he could be ready for a job after college. Plans changed in a hurry, Hill said.
“Lo and behold, the very first time through I get a conditional offer,” he said. “I talked to a lot of people and they said, if you don’t take it ... you’re dumb. So I made that jump and left college at that point.”
Hill is a Lieutenant now with MSP, in his 20th year on the job.
He wasn’t done with baseball, however, although he couldn’t have imagined he’d still be playing the game more than two decades later.
Hill is back in the South Penn League playing with North Carroll, which needed a few more players to fill out its roster for the modified 2020 season during the coronavirus pandemic.
He doesn’t pitch much anymore, having gone through a pair of surgeries on his right shoulder. But Hill strikes quite a presence at third base, and in the middle of the Panthers’ lineup as their left-handed clean-up hitter.
He’s batting .261 in eight games, with one double, one home run, and six RBIs.
“It’s fun to be out here and face down a guy on the mound who’s half your age, or he wasn’t even born yet when you started in the league,” said Hill, who turns 41 in September.
Hill said he saw an article about the South Penn League, a wooden bat organization now in its 55th year, coming together to play this summer. He reached out to North Carroll manager Brandon March via Facebook Messenger, Hill said, without knowing March or any of the other Panthers.
Hill’s baseball resume was strong. He batted .372 in the regular season during his senior year, and had 33 RBIs ― 15 of those came in six playoff games. Last year, Hill played in a Maryland-based Ponce de Leon league for the 30-and-over crowd and said he loved getting back into the game.
North Carroll welcomed the veteran.
“Jon plays a good third base and even though his numbers don’t show it he has a powerful swing,” March said last week in a text message. “I’m just waiting for him to pull it all together and unload it on some of these South Penn pitchers.”
It came together last Thursday against Hanover. The Panthers lost 9-8, but Hill had a two-out RBI single in the first inning a launched his home run in the seventh. He had three RBIs in the game.
North Carroll is struggling at 1-8, but the Panthers have seven home games to go starting with Sunday’s doubleheader against Cashtown at Christmas Tree Park in Manchester. The SPL regular season wraps up at the end of the month, and all 10 teams will be included in a double-elimination playoff bracket.
Hill said he developed a better appreciation for the game during his first South Penn stint in the late 1990s, learning from teammates and competitors such as Erik Barnes, Trevor Buckley, Greg Elliott, Rob Johnson, Scott Thomson, and Brian Van Duesen to name a few. Hill said he credits Denny Snyder for teaching him how to respect and approach his opportunity to play.
And these days he tries to pass on that knowledge to a younger crop of players.
“You want to make an impact somewhere,” Hill said.
Playing in the Ponce league last year was fun, Hill said, and he’s likely to give it a go again when the men’s league resumes play. Hill said he recognizes his body is slowing down when it comes to playing baseball. The aches might be a little more noticeable the following morning than they were in 1997, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to play.
“I know the Orioles are not calling me tomorrow,” Hill said. “But it’s an opportunity for me to get out here to play the game and stay active. I don’t want to be sedentary. ... Expectations are high for myself, and they always are. Reactions and quickness just doesn’t happen the way it used to 20 years ago.”
Age and mobility isn’t keeping Hill from having fun, however. He has fond memories of seeing old South Penn players bring their children to games. More than 20 years later, Hill’s two kids, ages 8 and 10, make it out to see their dad play when they can, he said.
“When you’re telling your kid that you want them to go out and you want them to try hard ... it’s one thing to say it, but it’s something totally different to be able to model it for them,” Hill said.
You want to make an impact somewhere.
Jon Hill, on playing in the South Penn Baseball League at age 40.
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There’s no set timetable for how long he’ll continue to play, and he’s not even the oldest player in the league (New Oxford’s Scott Meckley, who turned 50 this year, is still active). But Hill isn’t letting the experience pass him by.