Richard Hilton did both for more than 40 years, and he guided East Marietta National Little League to the Little League World Series title in 1983.
Hilton died Saturday of an undisclosed illness.
According to David Gernatt, a member of the 1983 East Marietta team, several former players visited Hilton as word of his illness spread.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see him again this side of heaven,” said Gernatt, who also had three older brothers who also played for Hilton, “but I know I will some day.”
Marc Pisciotta, the star pitcher of the 1983 team as a 6-foot-3 13-year-old, said he didn’t realize the effect Hilton had had on his life until he was much older.
“Looking back at it, he was looking out for you — not just as a baseball player, but trying to teach you how to treat others with respect,” said Pisciotta, who went on to play at Walton and Georgia Tech before a brief Major League Baseball career. “He was teaching you how to deal in the world. At the time, you
didn’t realize it but he was preparing you for life. Looking back at it, I got a lot out of it. Plus, he was a great baseball coach, too.
“We were a bunch of 12-year-olds, and he made us act like we were older than that. He helped define me as a person”
Gernatt said Hilton coached a countless number of young players.
“He coached generations of brothers, and he coached some fathers and their sons,” Gernatt said of Hilton, who began working with the East Marietta program in 1965 and was named the organization’s coaching coordinator in 2011. “He was a good teacher of discipline and respect. Especially in this generation of today’s youth, it’s unique and special to have someone that would command your respect like that.”
Pisciotta played his first travel-ball under Hilton and faced some high talent during the team’s trip to the World Series.
“He taught us to play at a high level and still have fun with it,” Pisciotta said. “That probably carried over to my playing days in the big leagues.”
After his baseball career was finished, Pisciotta returned to the area and even coached along side Hilton.
“It was also fun to be around Richard,” said Pisciotta, who now lives in Canton. “But you knew, when you were around him, you were going to play some serious baseball. You were going to be competitive, and more likely than not, you were going to win.”
Gernatt said Hilton loved what he did.
“He would do anything for his players and former players,” Gernatt said. “He would come see you play in high school. It was just neat. He was always around the field.”
Hilton told the Journal in 2003, during a 20-year reunion celebration, that the love for the game is what kept him going.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “When you see a kid yells out at you from across the street — ‘Hey, coach!’ — that’s what it’s all about.’”
Gernatt said he stayed in touch with Hilton through the years, and the 1983 team would periodically have reunions. Gernatt and Hilton even traveled to South Williamsport, Pa., several years ago to take part in ESPN’s “Titletown USA” series, filming a segment on small town that hosts the Little League World Series each August.
“It was a really neat experience,” Gernatt said. “I had not been back to (South) Williamsport since we had won the Little League World Series. He had been back once or twice, but it was neat for me talking with him about that as an adult as opposed to living it as a child. It was kind of reliving it with him.”
Gernatt pitched a 10-strikeout game in the United States championship game to advance to team to the Little League final, where East Marietta beat a team from the Dominican Republic.
“I would get a call from him occasionally and he would give me the count and the score in the game and ask me if I remembered what day it was and it would be that date,” Gernatt said. “So I did stay in touch with him some.”
Pisciotta doesn’t doubt that the youth baseball community of Cobb County will feel the loss of Hilton, but he said people might not realize how great the loss really is.
“The way he was able to help coach kids and develop them into ball players and kids — he was a tremendous influence in my life,” Pisciotta said. “I would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say otherwise.”
Hilton’s survivors include wife Betty, daughter Kelly and sons John, Mark, Kevin and Sam.
Visitation for Hilton will take place Friday from 5-8 p.m. at Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home in Marietta. The funeral will take place 2 p.m. Saturday at Cobb Vineyard Church in Kennesaw, with internment to follow at Noonday Baptist Church Cemetery in Marietta.