Former All-American and national champion goes family first, makes a grand comeback
Michael Jordan waited three years from the time he capped a championship career by throwing a dagger into the heart of the Utah Jazz and its fans before returning to his profession.
What if he'd waited 13 years before making a comeback?
That's precisely what Mormon softball player Jenny Dalton Hill has done — and she's used both softball and baseball to make it happen. As for that decade-plus bridge between setting milestones on the field — that's where her three children come into play.
Hill, a first-team All-American and national softball champion three times each in the mid-1990s with the University of Arizona, knows a little bit about what it means to "pick up your cross." Fresh off another national title with the Wildcats — a season that saw her team go 58-9 and in personally garnering NCAA Player of the Year honors — Hill soon found herself in the running for a spot on the 1996 women's softball Olympic team, and the following year, with a professional baseball team that played against top collegiate male players.
It was a season that took them from Alaska to Florida and Nicaragua and was the only summer of the team's four in existence in which they were positive in the win-loss category (23-22). The Colorado Silver Bullets can be found in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, N.Y., today.
But, just like one of Dalton's 76 career home runs — sixth in NCAA softball history — the softball legend was going, going, gone.
Actually, Hill was plain gone, and it came as a bit of a surprise to some of those who had spent even one season lacing the cleats together. That surprise especially came to someone who saw Hill as so good at what she did that the men's minor professional leagues could have been in her future.
"She was probably as quick as a big as anyone I’ve ever seen, including people in the big leagues," said Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, who coached Hill as the manager of the Silver Bullets during the summer of 1997. "She could have had as good a chance as anyone to have started in the minor leagues. I mean, she was really good."
Hill's chances might have skyrocketed as well had she been able to play during the club's entire four-year existence, giving her more opportunity to be accustomed to a game with a smaller ball and a different release point from the pitcher, among other things.
"She was definitely an offensive force to be reckoned with," said Bruce Crabbe, who was a part of the Silver Bullets staff and is now the coach of the Salem Red Sox, the single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. "Offensively, she probably could have played at the lower levels."
But it was a certain perspective on her calling in life that kept Hill from rounding the professional athletics bases any further.
Hill's marriage in 1996 to her husband, Marc Hill, set her life goals in a direction not found on the diamond. After making the final cut for the '96 Olympic team that won a gold medal in Atlanta, the closing of the Silver Bullets organization the following season after it couldn't find another sponsor, Hill made a decision to start building a family — which now includes 13-year-old Dalton, 11-year-old Brooke and 9-year-old Cogan — even easier.
But there was the share of alternative options. Hill spoke of times in which Mike Candrea, her coach at Arizona who led the 2000 and 2004 Olympic teams, commented to her about how much he needed a talented middle infielder for his first team.
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