Hill has best seat in the house
There’s a story behind every baseball, behind every photo, behind every framed program.
Bruce Hill’s office at Superior Alarm is littered with memorabilia, treasured trinkets accumulated over the course of his 27 years of service on the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series committee.
Whether it’s a baseball autographed by Reggie Jackson or ones covered in signatures by JUCO committee members of years past, a personal experience accompanies each item.
“I think just about every ball is JUCO related,” Hill said, sitting back in his chair and glancing at a high shelf housing countless cased baseballs. “I’ve got a Don Baylor ball from when they were first here before the (Colorado Rockies) season even started. I think I have a Reggie Jackson ball, but the thing to me is every baseball I have that has a signature on it, I personally met them. I didn’t buy it, so it’s not as much a collection as it is a memory of different times.”
Those memories have been at the forefront of Hill’s mind since the Superior Alarm owner/president, former Grand Junction mayor and city council member and longtime JUCO vice chairman learned of his impending induction into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
He and three fellow 2013 inductees will be recognized at the JUCO tournament banquet tonight.
It’s an honor that triggers disbelief in the lifelong Grand Junction resident.
“Every time somebody says, ‘Hey, congratulations,’ I just giggle because it’s so funny to me that, for 27 years, I’ve had the best seat in the house to watch the best baseball in the country when it comes to amateur baseball,” he said.
“I’m with my best friends, with great baseball fans in the community, working on a great committee and then somebody comes along and says, ‘Hey, congratulations.’ You get a jacket and a ring and recognition and you’re like, ‘Really?’ It was already too good to be true.”
Hill joined the tournament committee in 1987, assisting Dr. Hurst Otto with the qualifying teams and their hotel and travel arrangements.
As with virtually every longtime JUCO committee member, Hill’s done a little of everything — from something as menial as picking up a player at the airport to cultivating partnerships with big-name sponsors. His greatest contribution, though, is his sharp marketing mind.
“So many people work on the committee really know what they’re doing, but by doing what’s in the back of their head, so what he really brought to the table was putting a marketing playbook together,” said Jamie Hamilton, Hill’s longtime friend and the tournament’s chairman. “He goes out and renews sponsorships every year. He’s got that technical edge.”
It’s that technical edge that’s helped JUCO grow into western Colorado’s marquee sporting event.
Fittingly enough, Hill’s life very much parallels that of the JUCO tournament. He was 6 weeks old in 1959 when the tournament was played in Grand Junction for the first time after an inaugural showing in Miami, Okla., in 1958. The symmetry is staggering.
“I just turned 54,” he began, “so it’s interesting that the first 27 years of my life was spent being a Grand Junction citizen and watching JUCO as a fan. The other 27 years, I’ve been on the committee helping continue to make it a great tournament. … It just tickles me, because it hasn’t been 27 years of hard work. It’s just been 27 years of a passion for what it is to our community.”
Hill knows firsthand what JUCO means to the community. It’s what compelled him to donate his time to the event back in 1987.
“I remember reading the program and, in the program, there was a list of the committee members,” he said. “When you ran down that list, you knew them as people actively involved in the community. There were significant names of important people that served on this JUCO committee who you could tell were having fun doing it.”
Hill wanted to be one of those people.
“It was one of those things where, if I ever had a chance, I’d like to do that,” he said. “I would bet most of the people on the committee today have some kind of perspective of what a great opportunity it is. I just remember reading the program and going, ‘Wow, these are some important people giving up their week to help put this thing on.’ “
Baseball was never Hill’s primary sport growing up. He enjoyed a brief Little League career, but ski racing and track and field were his athletic passions. These days, he golfs with his children.
Eventually, though, baseball would find its way to the center of Hill’s life.
Growing up in Grand Junction, it’s hard to escape JUCO’s impact on the community. It’s a social affair and celebration of summer as much as it is a sporting event.
“It’s much more than a baseball tournament,” Hill explained. “It’s an event. We’re very much a four-season community. Distinctly, we know when it’s winter, we know when it’s summer, and we love our springs and falls.
“JUCO is kind of a celebration of summer is here. School’s out, the weather’s better and maybe it’s just the pride of knowing our community hosts a national event. It’s almost like a tradition that we all have to participate in and, after that’s all said and done, then there’s great baseball.”
Great baseball he’s always made a point to see.
“Just as a kid, from elementary school to junior high to high school to a young adult, JUCO was something that everyone took part in,” recalled Hill, who missed out on many a JUCO game as a tyke because of holiday excursions with the family.
“My parents had bought a cabin up on the mesa and they just loved it up there,” he said. “Every Memorial Day weekend, we’d be up there for three or four days, so we wouldn’t be able to see the opening weekend of JUCO. But when we’d get home, we’d start hitting the afternoon games and the night games for that week.”
These days, Hill doesn’t miss many JUCO games, even if much of his time at Suplizio Field is spent in the hospitality suite greeting sponsors.
That hospitality suite, part of a broader, $8.3 million renovation project at Suplizio Field and Lincoln Park, came to fruition under Hill’s political guidance. He lights up like a proud father when he talks about the facilities he helped reshape.
“I’m pleased as punch,” he said. “The hallway of the new press box facility is bigger than the old press box used to be. It’s exciting.”
Just as his city council tenure eventually came to an end, so will Hill’s run on the JUCO committee. He hopes to one day “hand the baton to a younger generation to take it from today into the future.”
That would give Hill more time with his family, which consists of his wife, Kristine, his two adult children, Tiffany and Brandon, and his two young daughters, 15-year-old Avery and 9-year-old Adison.
“I remember the words of Sam Suplizio,” Hill said. “He always used to say this tournament is so much bigger than one person or one committee. We’re the caretakers of the tournament, from today to the future. And then we’ll let the future take it from there.’ “
Until then, Hill’s collection of baseball memorabilia will only continue to grow.