By Mark Huber
Dale Hillard remembers walking off the baseball diamond back in May 1967 following a 2-1 loss to Nelsonville in a semifinal game in the Class A Ohio State Baseball Championship tournament at Ohio State University.
His head was down as Clinton Massie’s storybook season had come to an end. The last thing on his mind was his post-high school baseball career.
“It really was an afterthought,” he said. “Nobody from Clarksville, Ohio was dreaming of playing professional baseball.”
But before he could set foot on the bus for the ride home, Hillard came face to face with his future.
“I had not had anybody contact me (about playing in the future),” said Hillard. “When the game was over, I was swamped. I was stopped before I got on the bus … I had a scholarship offer from Ohio University. I didn’t even know where Ohio University was. A New York Mets scout stopped me. A (Washington) Senators scout stopped me.”
As it turned out, Hillard was drafted in the 31st round by the Senators in June 1967. He was the first Clinton County baseball player to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team.
Signing with the Senators, however, wasn’t a sure thing for Hillard.
“I was really so confused,” he admitted. “I had an opportunity to go to Ohio University.”
Hillard figured he might as well give professional baseball a try. He might not get another chance. He spent three seasons in the minors and played 75 games.
“Minor leagues was tough,” he said. “We had better uniforms and equipment and everything with our Hillsboro (American) Legion team. A lot of that stuff you see in the movies, like Bull Durham, is true. It was pretty different.”
The Senators were managed at the time by baseball legend Ted Williams. On the same day, Hillard’s professional career was summarized in the blink of an eye.
“My Dad had told me to always be humble playing professional baseball; put your ego away,” Hillard said. “He said think about when you were going to see the Cincinnati Reds, trying to talk with their players.
“That same day I got to meet Ted Williams, shake his hand, there were two little boys asking for autographs. I got some baseballs out, signed and gave it to them. I was talking to their dad and one of the boys says, ‘Dad, who’s that?” The dad looked at it (the autograph) and I said, that’s OK. In one day, I have a meet Ted Williams high, then this brought me right back down to earth.”
Members of the Clarksville Men’s Club were a major influence on, not only Hillard’s life, but so many other youngsters who grew up in Clarksville. Longtime Clarksville names such as DeBoard, Moon, Baughman, Hollingsworth, Redfern and Harvey would take care of the kids by purchasing a few bats here, a glove there, a ball when the season arrived.
Hillard recalled his days at Clinton Massie, remembering coaches Tony Lamke (I was so overwhelmed at times. He helped so much with the other sports), Frank Irelan (He was a tough man but he had a great heart), Carl Large (Enthusiastic, hard-working fella), Charlie Starr (He was the first guy to ask to see my grades) and Paul Schwamberger (By far, the best baseball coach I was ever around).
Hillard didn’t particularly care for the uneasy spotlight of sitting in the barber shop “pressure” chair and being grilled by the oldtimers once Clinton Massie became a school district.
“We were fortunate to have those men in Clarksville that got us started,” he said. “The men’s club that nobody knew about. There was something every day going on in that little town. I was so fortunate to grow up there.”
Clinton Massie High School, Class of 1967
BORN: July 2, 1949 in Wilmington, Ohio, son of Velma and the late Claude Hillard.
COLLEGE: Bowling Green State University, graduated 1974. Physical education major, marketing degree.
ATHLETIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Drafted in the 31st round of the 1967 MLB June Amateur Draft by Washington Senators. Played three seasons in minor leagues. In high school, earned 11 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, track and field. Earned All FAVC honors 6 times, including four in baseball. Basketball team MVP in 1967. Baseball MVP in 1966 and 1967. Member state qualifying baseball team in 1967. Won 4 national slow pitch softball championships with International Guard team in Wilmington.
EMPLOYMENT: Retired, Delphi Chasis, Dayton.
PERSONAL: Married with two children and three grand-children.