As America’s self-proclaimed national pastime, baseball is more than a game. It is a tradition, one born of history and folklore, impassioned devotion and eternal hope. Wistful old timers recall legends of the past while wide-eyed schoolboys dream of making it to “the show,” assuming the persona of those very legends and leading their team to the summit of the baseball mountain, a World Series championship.
For Williams native Billy Hatcher, the dream not only became a reality, sprinkled with its own dose of legendary magic. Today, 32 years after breaking into the major leagues and 26 years after his hitting prowess helped the Cincinnati Reds win a World Series, Hatcher still plays a key role in big league baseball. Instead of hitting line drives, stealing bases and reliably catching long fly balls, he now serves as a coach, a seasoned sage who teachers his players skills that transcend baseball into the realm of everyday life. He credits much of his wisdom to people who inspired him while growing up in Williams.
William “Billy” Augustus Hatcher was born on Oct. 4, 1960. “Besides my father and my brother, I think probably the person who had the biggest influence on me in my entire life as a teacher was Dorothy Heskie.” Another important role model was Richard Hoy, who coached Hatcher in baseball, football and basketball.
When he was old enough to play Little League, Billy hoped to join the team his brother coached but instead was picked to play for a rival team, the Astros. While he was a little disappointed at the time, today, he appreciates this turn of events because of the coaches who became his mentors.
“Richard Aguilar and Sonny O’Terrell were my coaches, and they were just very good people. They taught me a lot about not just baseball, but life,” he said of the men who taught him the Golden Rule. “I can always remember them telling me, telling our team, treat people like you want to be treated. I think that stuck with me a lot more than anything they taught me about baseball.”
Aguilar and O’Terrell also taught Hatcher about teamwork and how a team is only as good as the weakest player. He remembers how this message sunk in and how he and his teammates would be sure to support the less-talented players on his teams, congratulating them when they contributed in some way.
“I think sometimes I felt better about myself when I saw one of my teammates that hadn’t done as well, do better one day and help us win, than it would be for me to have a game-winning hit. When you start feeling that as a group, that’s when you know you’re a team.”
The mentoring Hatcher received from his family, coaches and teachers helped him get through some tough times during his athletic career. He remembers feeling down after losing a state championship game in high school, but then realized how many other teams he and his teammates had beat to get that far. “That’s when I figured, the only thing you can do in sports is to leave it out on the field, to leave it out on the court. Tomorrow is not promised to you, so give all you have that day.”
Hatcher was drafted to play professional baseball out of high school, but his parents did not think he was ready yet to follow this path, so he instead attended Yavapai Community College, where he honed his baseball skills under the tutelage of coach Rod Selsby. This experience resulted in Hatcher being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1981. He quickly moved up through the Cubs’ minor league system and on Sept. 10, 1984, experienced what he calls the biggest thrill of his life – playing his first game in the major leagues.
Hatcher went on to play in the outfield for seven teams over 12 seasons, amassing a lifetime batting average of .263 while stealing 218 bases. He is best remembered in baseball circles for a spectacular, maybe miraculous stretch of time in fall 1990, when he helped lead the Reds to the Worlds Series against the favored Oakland Athletics. It was there that he found himself in one of those zones that athletes dream about, hitting .750 while his team swept the Athletics. In doing so, he broke a 62-year-old record held by Babe Ruth for the best batting average in a single World Series, a mark that still stands.
Hatcher remains a favored son of the town of Williams. His high school’s baseball stadium now bears his name. He still visits family and friends here occasionally, but most of his time is packed with coaching duties with the Reds. Yet his life remains largely a result of the people he knew and events he experienced while growing up in this Northern Arizona community.
“I just want to be remembered as a person that treated every single person I met like I wanted to be treated. That’s all I want. Life is simple. I try to give back whatever I can and to help anyone that I can, and I don’t ask anyone for anything, I just ask how I can help them.” FBN
By Kevin Schindler, FBN