JC Baseball: OCC twin aces mirror success
Born six minutes apart, and sometimes undiscernible from the other even by their mother, twin brothers David and Jacob Hill took uniquely divergent paths to Orange Coast College. But this baseball season, in a most unlikely way, the pair of pitching aces’ ERA has been nearly as identical as their DNA.
Together, they shared Orange Empire Conference Pitcher of the Year honors and their combined record of 20-1 has helped the Pirates (31-9) advance within two more wins of reaching the four-team state championship tournament in Fresno, May 24-26.
OCC the No. 1 seed in Southern California, plays host to Santa Barbara City College in a best-of-three series that begins Friday at 2 p.m. The winner will advance to Fresno.
David, the youngest, was the more heralded player in high school. Following his senior season at El Modena High, David was drafted in the 17th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, but instead accepted a scholarship offer to play at Long Beach State.
Jacob, then primarily known as a first baseman who pitched some in relief, played last season at OCC, where he played sparingly as a freshman.
But David, who became the Sunday starter at Long Beach in 2013, said he was not a good fit with the Dirtbags and chose to transfer to join his brother, who soon afterward was convinced to give up hitting in order to concentrate on pitching.
David, a right-hander, quickly became Coach John Altobelli’s No. 1 starter. He has gone 10-1 with a 1.41 earned-run average, while posting 99 strikeouts and allowing just 86 hits in 102 innings spanning 14 starts.
Jacob, a left-hander, has won each of his 10 starts and has a 1.33 ERA in 61 innings. He has allowed 46 hits and struck out 54. He has rested the last two weekends, as OCC has swept its best-of-three playoff series against El Camino and Allan Hancock. He is once again slated to start a third game, if necessary, on Sunday, Altobelli said.
“We expected David to do what he is doing, but Jacob has been a great surprise,” said Altobelli, who persuaded Jacob to become a full-time pitcher this season. “The best thing we did for Jacob was take the bat out of his hands. He always wanted to keep hitting and we knew that he had a future on the bump, especially being left-handed. He really started progressing once he made that change.”
David also embraced change when arriving at OCC.
“Coming here absolutely helped me become the player I used to be,” David said. "[David and Jacob] play catch together every day. He’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, so its like playing catch in a mirror. We help each other in a way that a lot of people can’t. We give each other feedback and we feed off each other.”
Jacob, for whom David was his regular catcher when Jacob was the primary pitcher in Little League, said he has also benefited from having his best friend wearing the same uniform this spring.
“I had a fun time with the guys last year, but if you look at my numbers, I wasn’t very productive,” Jacob said. “This year, with my brother coming in here, it is just a different environment. I just got a lot better and David being a part of it has really helped me. He has helped me focus on pitching.”
Altobelli said the special bond the Hills on the hill enjoy has been mutually beneficial.
“I don’t think either one would be as productive as they are without the other,” Altobelli said. “We’ve had brothers before, but I’ve never been around twins like these guys, who are identical. I can only tell them apart by their arm sleeves [worn longer on their pitching arm]. If they aren’t wearing those, I just call them Hill. They are fun to watch because they do everything together and it has been interesting watching them play off each other. In addition to baseball, I think it has been good for them to have each other around, just from a comfort standpoint.”
David and Jacob acknowledge their vast similarities, while also revealing their differences, both on the diamond and off.
“I think people would tell you I’m more weird,” David said. “I’m more outgoing and he’s more reserved.”
Said Jacob: “People who know both of us, definitely goof around more with David, but I have my sense of humor, too.”
Added David: “In terms of the whole mind-reading thing, I can attest to that. We have a different bond in that we are kind of in each other’s heads, even when we are separated.”
While clearly competitive with one another, they are also their leading supporters, Altobelli said.
“I think David is a little more confident, because he has always been the guy,” Altobelli said. “Jacob has always been the guy who never thought he was as good as his brother, and he was always in his brother’s shadow, athletically. But he is kind of stepping away from that shadow and I think the person who is happiest about that is David. David is extremely happy for his brother and Jacob is extremely happy for everything David gets. They are great cheerleaders for each other and there is no jealousy. They just want what is best for the team and for each other and that has been really neat to be around all year.”
David throws a little harder (up to 94 mph to Jacob’s maximum of 92 mph), though David claims Jacob has a better fastball.
“I get feedback from players on other teams who say it seems like Jacob throws harder than me, just because his ball has better late life,” David said. “I think its typical for left-handers to have better movement.”
Both agree that David has the better changeup, while Jacob’s curveball is superior.
But whichever one is on the mound, he knows he can count on not only encouragement, but advice, from his synchronous sibling.
“He knows me so well,” Jacob said. “It’s not only him being my twin brother, but he also caught me, so he helped me develop as a pitcher, mechanically. We’re always picking each other apart, but it’s not like we’re [criticizing] each other. We are looking out for each other and we are able to make each other better that way.”
Added David: “We kind of serve as each other’s video. We can always ask the other ‘What did you see? It’s like seeing things through your own eyes and getting feedback that way. It’s really beneficial.”
The Hill twins, whose four older brothers all played college baseball, will continue to benefit from one another next season, as they have both accepted full scholarships to pitch for the University of San Diego.
"[Toreros Coach Rich Hill, no relation] went to Cal Lutheran with my best friend’s dad,” Jacob said, “and they are still good friends to this day. USD recruited David out of high school and when he left Long Beach State, Coach Hill called and said they would be interested in both of us. That kind of caught me by surprise, because at that time, I was still the same player I was [in 2013]. I took a smaller scholarship and thought I’d be happy playing with my bother down there. But as this season has gone on and I’ve gotten better and better, they also gave me a full scholarship and Coach Hill has told us he is very proud of us both.”
Said David: "[Playing for the same Division I program] hasn’t really hit me yet, because I’m enjoying this season and trying to win that [state championship] ring. But to get to play college baseball, whether here at a junior college, or at USD, and to get that education alongside your twin bother is pretty special.”