Westmont Magazine Someone I Want on my Team

Rob Hill
Rob Hill

In 2014, Skagit Valley C.C. freshman Rob Hill ’18 allowed 14 runs in 5.2 innings of work, striking out just two batters while walking 17. He struggled with confidence and considered quitting the game of baseball.

But Hill’s father, Edward, pressed him to give it one last shot before hanging up his spikes for good. He took his father’s advice and ventured out to Seattle to train at Driveline, an up-and-coming baseball facility.

That trip in the summer of 2014 eventually led to Hill receiving the same World Series ring as Clayton Kershaw more than six years later — and a former Westmont baseball player working with Hill in one of baseball’s most storied organizations.

But before that happened, Hill needed to figure out how to throw a fastball.

“When I first went up to Driveline, I was only working out twice a week,” he said. “That was back when it was just Kyle Boddy (founder) and Mike Rathwell (CEO), and I didn’t really know the science of it. I was just following along.

“After about a month of training, after a season where I was throwinginthelow80swithout knowing where it was going, I was sitting from 86 to 88 and throwing it exactly where I wanted.”

Hill became Skagit Valley’s Friday starter his sophomore year, an honor reserved for the aces of college baseball. However, Hill played through injuries and was diagnosed with a torn labrum after the season.

When he went in for surgery, the doctors found no structural damage in his shoulder and merely cleaned up the surrounding area. This unnecessary procedure kept him from throwing another competitive pitch for more than a year.

During Hill’s rehabilitation in 2015, the right-hander met former Westmont assistant coach Jeff Calhoun, who has since become the head baseball coach at Biola. When Hill returned to Driveline, he became increasingly aware of the science behind baseball’s newest pitching evolution, and Calhoun witnessed his development.

With two years of eligibility remaining, Hill decided to transfer to Westmont beginning in spring 2016.

“After talking to Calhoun, the type of environment they were interested in creating appealed to me,” Hill said. “I could see that Robert Ruiz (Westmont’s head coach) and Tony Cougoule (former Westmont pitching coach) were interested in developing good men as well as baseball players. It was something I could get excited about.”

Sean Coyne
Sean Coyne

Freshman right-hander Sean Coyne ’19 had been a Warrior for four months before Hill arrived on campus. Like many others, Coyne initially second-guessed Hill’s training methods, which had not yet reached the mainstream of baseball development.

“Looking back, we hit it off pretty quickly,” Coyne said. “But when I first met him, I thought, ‘Who is this guy, and why is he carrying a trampoline everywhere?'

“The more I got to know him, however, the more I realized how similar our underlying characteristics were.”

Coyne, like Hill, lacked a right arm naturally capable of throwing in the mid-90s.

“When I was still rehabbing during my first semester at Westmont, Sean and I got really close,” Hill said. “I was a little bit older, but we quickly found common ground. After the 2016 season, we got him up to Driveline.”

During Coyne’s first summer training at Driveline, he experienced success similar to Hill’s. He had thrown a fastball in the low 80s as a freshman, but Driveline posted a video of him hitting 88 miles an hour at the end of the summer.

Coyne and Hill decided to be roommates when they headed back to Westmont in fall 2016.

“That’s when our relationship really took off,” Coyne said. “We were talking pitching nonstop, watching videos of guys pitching and just consuming all kinds of content we thought we could learn from. We repeatedly asked ourselves, ‘How can we be great?’”

On February 25, 2017, in a game the Warriors ultimately won 6-5 in extra innings, Coyne came on in relief in the fifth inning and stranded a pair of runners to keep the Warriors in the game. In the sixth, Hill fired a 1-2-3 inning, striking out a pair of batters. After the game — and after three years of reinventing himself as a pitcher — Hill learned he’d hit 90.

“I said ‘No way.’ It was an emotional day.”

Sean Coyne pitches at a Westmont game in 2017.
Sean Coyne pitches at a Westmont game in 2017.

While Hill and Coyne continued training and logging innings for the Warriors, Hill’s playing days came to an abrupt end. Once again battling injuries, he managed to throw just 4.2 innings as a senior in 2018, when his eligibility expired.

“I took about a month off following graduation just to collect my thoughts,” Hill said. “But I knew I was headed back to Driveline.”

Beginning in June 2018, Hill worked full time at Driveline, where he became one of the company’s most prominent names. He dove into the world of biomechanics and pitch development. Hill knew he needed to perform the drills he taught professionals.

In the next 10 months, Hill lost 50 pounds, changed his delivery and revamped the way he originally thought about throwing.

In April 2019, Hill posted a video of himself pitching with the caption, “Finally threw a few actual fastballs for the first time in my life. Maybe this Driveline stuff actually works.” Five years after his first experience at Driveline, Hill was sitting at 95 miles an hour.

A month after Hill posted that video, Coyne’s college career ended with a walk-off on their own field after a 12-inning classic in the NAIA Opening Round. Westmont fell two wins short of the NAIA World Series, which remains the closest the program has ever been.

“I was really mad at baseball for a long time,” Coyne said. “I didn’t feel ready to be done with the game. I thought and prayed about it a lot, and I concluded I wasn’t done. I just didn’t know what that meant for me.”

Following his graduation from Westmont, Coyne spent four and a half months as the pitching coach at Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego.

After the 2019 season, a big-leaguer who regularly practiced Driveline methods suggested that teammate Alex Wood meet with Hill.

According to a Dodgers Insider blog, Wood said, “If I was going to do it, I wanted to work with the best person there.”

Hill led Wood in a handful of workouts during the off-season, and after the left-hander inked a deal to return to the Dodgers, some of Wood’s teammates made the trip up to meet with Hill as well.

Those sessions included future Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw as well as Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ all-time leader in saves.

After hitting it off with players such as Wood and Jansen, Hill began to wonder about the possibility of working for the club. After discussions with members of the Dodgers’ front office and player development staff, Hill became a pitching coordinator ahead of the 2020 season.

“I got a call from Rob right before he joined the Dodgers,” Coyne said. “He told me I should apply for the pitching internship at Driveline, and I laughed and said ‘No way.’ I didn’t feel qualified and had no clue about the biomechanical side of pitching. Rob cut me off and said, ‘You're good enough. I know you can do it.’”

Hill demonstrates pitching technique, sporting Dodger blue.
Hill demonstrates pitching technique, sporting Dodger blue.

As Hill departed for Camelback Ranch and his first spring training with the Dodgers, Coyne became an intern at Driveline, where he spent the 2020 season.

While the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on the first few months of both Hill’s and Coyne’s breaks, baseball was back in July, and the men went back to work.

Hill spent the 2020 season as a pitching coordinator at the Dodgers’ alternate site for minor league prospects, while Coyne learned the ins and outs of the science that has revolutionized pitching.

During an eighth-month period at Driveline, Coyne earned two Driveline Baseball certifications, the first in Foundations of Pitching and the second in Basics of Pitch Design.

Hill’s first season in professional baseball culminated on October 27, 2020. That night, Wood, who averaged 88 miles an hour on his fastball in 2019, fired two shutout innings in relief during Game Six of the World Series. His final pitch, which earned him his third strikeout of the night, was clocked at 93.

Later that evening, the Dodgers, Wood and Hill were World Champions.

“I’m really grateful to be involved in the organization,” Hill says. “They had worked so hard for so long and had fallen short a few times. It was really cool to see guys like Clayton and Alex, who had put the work in for years, get that final result. I couldn’t be happier for them.”

Hill analyzes Dodger gameplay.
Hill analyzes Dodger gameplay.

That fall, Coyne got an opportunity to continue padding his coaching resume, this time in a familiar place. “I talked to Coach Ruiz about the next steps to get into coaching,” Coyne says. “He asked me what kind of school I wanted to coach at, what division and where geographically, etc. After about 20 minutes, the conversation shifted to how we could get me back to Westmont. Ruiz takes care of the people he cares about, and he really took care of me.”

Coyne returned to Westmont as an assistant pitching coach for the 2021 season, one that culminated in another trip to the NAIA Opening Round, where the Warriors hosted the tournament for the second time in three years.

“Coaching that season was so rewarding,” Coyne says. “Those guys put so much into me for four years, and I salivated at the thought of getting to pay that forward to the next group.”

In spring 2021, Coyne received a phone call from Hill that kick- started the most recent plot twist in his journey.

“Rob skipped right to the point and asked me if I was interested in ever moving to pro ball,” Coyne says. “I paused for a second then said, ‘Well, of course,’ and he said, ‘OK’ and hung up. I chewed on that possibility for a few months.”

“I’d been targeting Coyne for the past few years,” Hill says. “I didn’t think I’d be in the kind of role where I could hire him, but I’d fought for him to get the job at Driveline, and it was easy to fight for him again.”

Hill called Coyne once that summer, and the two began talking about a variety of different positions. Things grew more serious when Hill advised Coyne to update his resume and work on a cover letter.

“Sean has something you can’t teach,” Hill says. “He brings people together and brings good energy every day. You want someone like him around. Sean has an elite ability to learn new information and translate it to other people in a way they can understand. He’s the kind of person who you know will excel. Sean has always been somebody that I want on my team.”

Hill got his wish that fall, when Coyne received an offer to become a pitching coach in the Dodgers organization.

“I talked about it a lot with my family, and the Dodgers took care of me during the process,” Coyne says. “They were extremely respectful in wanting me to leave Westmont at the right time on my own terms. They saw how important this place and these people were to me. They said, ‘You tie a bow on that place in your life as best you can, and then we’ll get you out here.’”

Coyne will serve as a pitching coach at the Dodgers spring training facility at Camelback Ranch during the 2022 season.

“To see how Rob has grown in his career and to see Sean follow a similar path is incredible,” says Rob Ruiz. “Understanding their backstory, what they brought to our program here at Westmont, and seeing the impact they’re making as professionals is astounding.”

Former Westmont pitching coach Tony Cougoule works as a minor league pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs, the team that signed former Warrior closer Bailey Reid ’20 in 2020. Reid is climbing the ranks in the club and crossed paths with Cougoule in 2021.

Michael Stefanic ’18 is expected to make his Major League debut for the Angels in 2022, and Andrew Vasquez ’15 has appeared in the big leagues with both the Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins.

“It’s exciting to see members of our program staying involved and influencing the game at the highest levels,” Ruiz says. “The former Warriors playing and coaching in professional baseball are people who will positively influence their organizations. It’s what I love most about Westmont. So many people graduate from here every year and go out and make an impact living out God’s calling in their lives. I appreciate that baseball can be a small part of that process.”