His wish fulfilled, Cubs’ Koyie Hill stages gala to help kids
I would guess most of you won’t be in Wichita, Kan. on Saturday night. But if you stray into the Great Plains, Koyie Hill would like to press the flesh in a good cause.
Two years ago, Cubs catcher Hill wasn’t sure if he could even shake your hand, let alone play in the major leagues.
That’s why Hill is putting on a big show at Hartman Arena at 6 p.m. Saturday. His “Big Wish” Gala, featuring entertainers and teammate Ryan Dempster, the funniest man in baseball, will benefit Kansas’ “Make-A-Wish” Foundation. And here’s hoping Hill extends his good works to the big city in which he makes a living he feared would be taken away from him.
The kids he wants to touch have dreams, many of them impossible-sounding. That was the category of Hill’s dream in the months after October 16, 2007.
After his first year in the Cubs organization, Hill worked at his Wichita home, using a table saw to cut wood for a window frame. Part of the wood got caught in the saw. Hill’s right hand was in the way. The saw severed his thumb and three fingers. He kept his cool long enough to preserve the fingers in a rush to the hospital. Speed was of the essence in saving the fingers, and they were re-attached to his hand.
As old-school in his attitude as they come, Hill was lucky he wasn’t playing baseball in 1960, when they couldn’t have saved the fingers, let alone rehabbed him. We have marvelous medical technology and techniques, improving by the day. To0 bad it costs too much and is the subject of rancorous national debate when it should be a right, not a privilege.
The surgeon did his job. Then the trainers took over. An off-season of therapy paid off and Hill returned to full-time duty in Triple-A on time the next spring. Finally, a job opened last season when the Cubs let go veteran backup catcher Henry Blanco. Hill would not lack any desire to nail the gig. His e-mail address’ name reflects his burning desire to play in the majors.
In 2009, Hill started 26 straight games in mid-season while regular catcher Geovany Soto was disabled with an oblique strain. I kept asking Hill if he felt tired during and after that stretch. After all, he was just the backup, seemingly without the everyday catcher’s endurance. But he was motivated to handle baseball’s most demanding position every day. That’s my job, playing when called, he replied.
They don’t talk about his shattered hand anymore. Instead, Hill gets publicity for his adept handling of pitchers and a 40 percent success rate throwing out would-be base-stealers in 2009.
“It had a little bit to do with my hand,” Hill said. “I had an injury and my wish was to get back to the big leagues. I had the best treatment in the world. I had the best big-league insurance, the best insurance in the world to get over everything and absorb the costs. I’m thinking, some of these families with these kids have life-threatening diseases and they’re in tough situations. They have wishes, too, and dreams, too.
“So I chose Make-A-Wish Foundation as the charity that I wanted to give to in hopes that all of our money goes to granting their wishes.”
Hill is assisted by batterymate Dempster, whose own infant daughter Riley was afflicted with DiGeorge Syndrome, which inhibited her swallowing reflex. Dempster took time from his own family duties to invite country singer Tracy Byrd, a friend, to perform in a private concert during the benefit. Dempster, who does a great Harry Caray impression that was been shown live on the Fox Game of the Week, will get in character to preside over a live auction. Other Cubs teammates are expected to attend. “High-end appetizers,” in Hill’s words, will be served by local eateries. Five bars will be open.
“I’d like to get over the $100,000 threshold,” Hill said. “We’re looking to have a good time. It’s just going to be a big party.”
Hill started helping others in college. Most recently, he created a baseball camp, called Big League Camp, for a local YMCA. He also is helping the Southwest Boys Club fix up their baseball field.
Hill will use the story of his accident as a talking point to drive home his message when he speaks to children who are ill or suffering other kinds of problems.
“I don’t think it will hurt,” he said. “My message to them is they can do anything they want to do. Not to let anything get in their way. Something my mom always mentioned to me is happiness is a choice, regardless of your situation. You either choose to be happy or choose not to be happy. You can make light of any situation. That’s not saying you’re oblivious to facts. But it doesn’t mean it has to ruin your temperament. You might be 0-for-12 or have a bad month as a team, but you don’t change. It’s definitely a choice.
“When you talk to those little kids, they’re just so happy you’re there. It gives them so much hope. I think it’s nice to let them know they matter. They’re definitely an individual and matter to someone. And what you do matters to them.”
For more information on Hill’s gala event, call Sarah Haertl at 316/258-9765 or click on www.HartmanArena.com.