Jim Gazzolo column: Patient Hill working the count

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, June 15, 2023

When he was in his prime, Mike Tyson would say everybody has a plan when they enter the ring until they get punched in the face.

Justin Hill never got a fist to the chin, but his baseball program took more than a few shots to the gut over the last few years.

Before that, Hill had a plan on just where he wanted to take the McNeese State program. He even had a playbook he kept on his desk in his office.

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“That seems long ago,” Hill said.

It was just three years but so much has happened since then. Yet Hill’s program has stayed on a winning course, picking up 69 victories over the last two seasons.

Now it is time for the pieces to a new play to be put together.

As an athletic department, McNeese has done a remarkable job recovering from all that has occurred on campus since the spring of 2020. Through COVID, hurricanes, frosts and floods, the school has put back together its facilities.

Soon McNeese will officially reveal what the new football press box will look like and when it is expected to be completed. Meanwhile, baseball’s extensive rebuild has stayed on hold.

“With as many moving parts as we have had over the last three years or so, not just in baseball but in the entire university, I believe the question is, what do we believe is possible and where do we want to go?” Hill said. “It is important to have a united front moving forward with the direction we want to go.”

This spring McNeese opened a new baseball press box, but there is still work to be done.

That may be coming soon, though. The school may be getting from the City of Lake Charles the fire station behind home plate in a trade.

That would likely be the start of getting a rebuilt indoor facility that was damaged by the storms of 2020.

Athletic Director Heath Schroyer has said that baseball needs its facilities fixed and is next on his list.

“We are looking at that now over the next 18 months or so,” said Schroyer, who first had to repair football and basketball.

“They have been behind, and some of that is insurance and other things, but I want to get them back,” he said. “They have done an incredible job keeping pace despite what they have gone through.”

A new locker room is a major part of that.

“There is no one thing, no magic bullet,” Hill said. “You are not going to get everything you want but you have to be willing to adjust on the fly.”

Not everything is in McNeese’s control. There is still insurance and FEMA to deal with.

Yet the Cowboys continue to succeed in the face of adversity in a tougher-than-usual time to keep veteran players and recruit newcomers. And the baseball program is also watching new projects go up close by.

“We all want to be at the top of the party list, but at the same time you are thankful for the progress going on around you and happy for what it means for the university,” Hill said. “Baseball is not alone here.”

Still, Hill’s got his plans on how he wants to go about fixing his facilities knowing it is one of the keys to getting good players and making them better.

And it is time for baseball to be taken care of before there is another punch to the face.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com