Padres Prospect Interview: Billy Killian

Billy Killian got a little surprise late in the year. He was called up to the Portland Beavers and got a pinch hitting chance. It didn't go as planned as he grounded into a double play. A few days later he was the designated hitter and it became his most memorable game as a San Diego Padres' prospect.

In his second at bat as a member of the Portland squad, Billy Killian grounded into a double play. That made him two for futility. But that wasn't the moment of memory – forgettable perhaps.

In his second at bat, Killian hit a soft grounder that he beat out for a single, his first hit at the Triple-A level. He had not played beyond Rookie League ball in Arizona and had his first hit off Britt Reames, a bona fide veteran of the minors and veteran of four different Major League stints.

Excuse the young catcher if he was a wee bit excited.

"It was great," he exclaimed. "I think I ran the fastest I have ever ran. I remember just running and that picnic section there and I ran right up to that. Some kids mom said, ‘hey Billy, way to go.' I was thinking ‘I got a single in Portland, awesome!'"

The realization of it all – a hit in Triple-A was quelled by the tempo of the game. It is safe to say that the game speed is a far cry from what he experienced in the Arizona Rookie League with Peoria.

Killian recalls his first hit with jubilation but turns serious when reminded of the two double plays he hit into, including his first at bat and the pitcher he faced.

"They roll it up fast up there," said Killian. "That game is really played fast. They had some kind of crazy three quarter lefty on the hill that day. Tommy (hitting coach Tommy Sandt) was telling me, ‘Just go up there ‘Killer' and take some hacks.'"

A new nickname was born, replacing the old moniker ‘Buzz'. And Killian is happy to have it.

The one thing that he didn't get to do in Portland was catch – his passion. Having grown up around the game – his father, William, is a part-time scout for the Padres – Killian has had the chance to meet some of the games greats.

Early on, he found himself with an affinity for Major League catchers. They do the dirty work, have bad knees, get beat up by foul tips and are used as human battering rams. Killian's sign me up philosophy earned him the respect from his elders and plenty of opportunities to sit down with Hall of Famers.

The Michigan native recalls one such meeting and his voice fluctuates with excitement at the amazing things he has been able to glean from those brief visits.

"It is always great to pick those guys brains," he said of the many players he has met. "They know so much.

"You sit down and talk to Carlton Fisk for half an hour, it takes you five or ten minutes to realize you are talking to a Hall of Famer.

"The wealth of knowledge those guys have. The experiences they have gone through – I am still learning and will be learning till my career is finished. That is what they were saying, ‘you are constantly learning.' Just to talk to those guys and see how they viewed guys and more the mental aspect of catching, calling games, in situations and directing play on the field. They have invaluable experience with that stuff. To share that – that is priceless."

And Killian is all about preparation. He comes out early so he can work on his own timetable and not feel rushed on game days. He meets with his pitchers before the game to go over any last minute adjustments. And when the game comes he is working out the tendencies of hitter's in the box so he can help the pitcher excel.

After a long, hot season in Peoria, Killian is enjoying his time off. He is back in Michigan working out and spending a little quality time with his family.

"I took the first week off," Killian explained off his offseason to date. "It was nice to sit out and see the family face-to-face. See my friends and get adjusted to this cold weather. It was funny because I was flying into Grand Rapids, my home airport, and I looked out and said ‘it looks so damn cold out there, I don't want to get off this plane.'"

He has had the benefit of a family that knows the nuances of baseball and how to adjust as he goes from high school ball to the Padres minors. His family has supported him since the inception of his dream.

"It was good and a situation where I knew what I was getting myself into. Some guys get here and don't really know what to expect. For me, I felt that was a real benefit I was given. I had an idea of what to expect when I got there.

"The support I have gotten from them has been unbelievable."

This weekend, however, as the Michigan Wolverines face the Ohio State Buckeyes in the greatest rivalry in College sports, the family is split. Billy will be rooting for the Maize and Blue while his parents, Ohio State alums, will be for the Buckeyes. A little rivalry to bring the family together and a chance for some jibes, especially when Ohio State must defend itself from allegations in light of what Maurice Clarett said.

"They have always had problems, come on" Killian laughed. "Any chance I get to plug Michigan."

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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