Trey Hillman dismissed suggestions he may not be ready to manage in US Major League Baseball because he never played or coached at American baseball's premier level, equating the Japanese big leagues with the US.
"It all depends on what you believe is major league baseball," the new skipper of the Kansas City Royals said on Monday, somewhat defensively. "In my humble opinion, I've been a major league manager for the last five years. We get after it in Japan."
After being introduced on Monday as the Royals' 15th full-time manager, Hillman got ready to return to Japan to manage the Nippon Ham Fighters in their defense of the Japan Series championship.
A veteran of 13 years managing in the New York Yankees minor league system, the 44-year-old Hillman has built the Fighters into a dominant team in Japan. He has managed in Japan for the past five years.
And it's not as though he is a stranger to US baseball. After playing college ball for the University of Texas-Arlington, Hillman spent several years as a second baseman in the Cleveland Indians system, getting as high as Triple-A.
Nevertheless, for a US MLB manager never to have been a player or coach in MLB is highly unusual.
"On many levels and on any given day, the quality of play [in Japan], I believe, is as good as it is here in the United States at the major league level," Hillman said.
His inexperience in US MLB, he said, is not something he views as an issue.
"I have no anxiety about that because the game of baseball is the same all over the world. There's different styles and different ways of playing it," he said. "Really, what matters is the foundational relationships that you can build with your players and putting them in the best possible position to be successful."
With his wife, Marie, sitting on his left and his father and two sisters in the front row before him, Hillman declared this one of the best days of his life. He will replace Buddy Bell, who finished out the season after announcing in August that he would step down.
The Royals, despite signs of improving, finished last in the American League's Central Division for the fourth year in a row and have not been in the postseason since winning the 1985 World Series.
"I really couldn't be any happier today," Hillman said. "I'm a hungry guy. I do not like to lose. I like to start from the ground up and build in such a way where it's going to be maintained for many years to come. I'm a long-haul guy, too. I'm a loyal guy. I'm bleeding Royal blue already. I'm thrilled to be here. It's a wonderful day in my life."