Tethered by the weight of the braces binding his legs, Rickey Hill grew up hitting rocks with sticks, dreaming of one day hearing the crack of his bat against a fly ball headed for the outfield.
That dream, he was told, couldn’t be a reality. The odds against him — and the near-countless exploratory surgeries he’d undergone — were just stacked too high.
“I had no disk in my spine,” Hill told CBN’s Faithwire. “People didn’t realize, I was born with no disk. My grandmother and my great-grandmother were in wheelchairs; I’d never seen them any different, and I was headed in the same direction.”
The son of a Baptist preacher, Hill grew up trusting God’s plan and his prognosis were at odds.
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Hill, whose life story is the subject of the new movie, “The Hill,” starring Dennis Quaid and Colin Ford, was a tenacious kid undeterred by the physical limitations that grounded him. So, at just eight years old, he walked out of the clunky supports that straightened his legs, which were twisted around one another at birth, and picked up a baseball bat.
“One day, at eight years old, I busted those braces off,” he said. “I never put ’em back on.”
The boldness and reckless courage it took Hill to walk away from the physical limitations dictating his future “came straight from God Himself,” the unlikely athlete reflected.
And his tenacious spirit certainly paid off.
Between his impressive batting skills and gritty determination, Hill scored a tryout at 19 years old with the Montreal Expos, a Major League Baseball franchise. Although he was signed and ultimately released from the team, Hill went on to play four seasons in minor league baseball.
The man who discovered Hill, baseball scout Red Murff, described the young player as “the best pure hitting prospect he’s ever seen,” according to USA Today. Hill only bowed out of the sport when his health prevented him from continuing.
That didn’t matter, though: Hill had already achieved his dream — and his father’s, albeit unconventionally.
“I knew one day that I would make it, somehow, someway,” Hill said. “It didn’t matter the pain. I weathered the pain, because it was very painful, but I weathered that storm through the pain and I just had it built in. My father had it; I had it.”
Hill’s father, portrayed by Quaid in the movie, was apprehensive about the idea of a career in baseball, fearing for his son’s health. Instead, he was hoping Hill would choose his dream: a life dedicated to ministry.
Teary eyed, Hill, depicted by Ford in the film, reflected on accomplishing both dreams in his life.
“I was probably the only baseball player ever that never said a curse word,” he said with a laugh. “I would get on the buses and I’d start preaching to the guys on the bus, the guys that would listen, and singing Gospel songs, leading Gospel songs while we were on the road traveling. That carried on through my baseball career.”
Even in moments when he didn’t understand God’s plan — like when he was paralyzed on the field — Hill said he never abandoned hope or trust in God’s sovereignty.
“That one I didn’t understand,” he said. “But I never gave up hope and faith and I went through major surgeries that restored my legs. … I’ve got nine screws in my spine, I have six cages, and a 14-inch rod that holds me together. And today, I’m very thankful.”
His preternatural success has continued today. In mid-August, Hill threw the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers.
Seeing his life’s journey turned into a film is yet another confirmation of God’s faithfulness.
In the late 1970s, Hill’s brother recorded the baseball player’s harrowing story in a small book intended just for the family. At the time, someone in their church got a hold of it, and sent it to Hollywood, where a studio expressed interest in turning the book into a movie. The timing, though, wasn’t right.
Both of Hill’s parents became seriously ill at the same time, and his father passed away.
All these years later, the story was picked up again — and written by the same screenwriter behind the iconic sports films “Hoosiers” and “Rudy.”
“Even this movie has brought me just closer — just closer to God,” Hill said through tears. “Because of what I went through, it brings me closer to Jesus Christ, because I know that this story was ordained before I was even in my mother’s womb.”
To learn more about “The Hill,” which debuts in theaters Friday, click here.