A native of Mesa, Arizona, Hillenbrand attended Mountain View High School there, excelling in both baseball, as a shortstop, and soccer. He attended Mesa Community College from 1994-96, before being drafted by Boston in the tenth round of the 1996 Amateur Draft.
Minor league career
Hillenbrand played 72 games in 1996 for the Low-A Lowell Spinners in the New York - Penn League. In 1997, he was promoted to the Sarasota Red Sox of the Florida State League, and was promoted again after 57 games, finishing the season with 64 games with the Michigan Battle Cats of the Midwest League. Despite being drafted as a shortstop, he played at first base and third base his first two years in the minors.
In 1998, still with Michigan, he was converted to play catcher and responded with his best season in the minors, with a .349 batting average and 19 home runs. This earned him a promotion in 1999 to AA Trenton Thunder of the Eastern League. However, a leg injury restricted him to only 69 games.
Major League career
2000 saw Hillenbrand back at Trenton, now back to playing first base and third base as the injury prevented him from catching. An average season at age 25 did not bode well for his chances as a prospect, but he parlayed an invitation to spring training with the Red Sox in 2001 into a spot on the big-league team for opening day. Hillenbrand played 139 games for the Sox in his rookie season, mostly at third base, but a .263 batting average failed to hide his failure to hit with power and get on base adequately (he had one of the lowest walks-to-plate appearances rates in the MLB). In 2001 he had the lowest range factor among all AL third basemen (2.46).
However, he retained his spot on the roster for 2002, and responded with a much better season, hitting 20 home runs with a .330 on base percentage and a .459 slugging average. His play earned him the starting third baseman spot in the All-Star Game. He tied Robin Ventura for the Major League lead in errors by a third baseman, however, with 23.
Nevertheless, Hillenbrand entered 2003 being the subject of trade rumors. The Red Sox had signed free agent Bill Mueller, another third baseman, and many believed that Hillenbrand's lack of strike zone judgment would not be compatible with the on base percentage priorities of new Sox general manager Theo Epstein. With Mueller hitting around .380 and playing a solid third base, Hillenbrand became expendable and was sent to Arizona for pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim on May 29. The move was arguably expedited after Hillenbrand had earlier made some disparaging remarks about Epstein on the Hillman Morning radio show by calling him a "faggot" while demanding he be traded from the Red Sox. Hillenbrand was also quoted as saying the Red Sox would deeply regret it if they let him go: "They don't know what they have with me. If they get rid of me, they'll know what they have. You've heard of Jeff Bagwell?" He finished the season with a combined .280 batting average and career-highs in RBI (97) and home runs (20), including a three-homer game with the Diamondbacks in month of July. Bill Mueller went on to win the AL Batting Title.
In 2004, Hillenbrand hit a career-high .310 with 15 home runs and 80 RBI over 148 games. At the same time, he shared the Major League lead in errors for a first baseman, with 13. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of the 2004 season.
In 2005, his first year with the Blue Jays, Hillenbrand hit .291 with 18 home runs and 82 RBI over 152 games, while splitting time between 1B, 3B, and DH.
On July 19, 2006, Hillenbrand criticized the Blue Jays organization for failing to congratulate him on his recent adoption of a baby girl and not playing him upon his return. He was also disgruntled about sharing first base duties with Lyle Overbay and third base duties with Troy Glaus while being made to play as a designated hitter. Hillenbrand refused to sit with his team in the dugout during that night's game. After the game, an argument in the clubhouse took place between Hillenbrand and manager John Gibbons over Hillenbrand allegedly writing defamatory comments about the team on the clubhouse billboard ("This is a sinking ship") after batting practice. This led to a confrontation between Hillenbrand and Gibbons. It was also reported that Hillenbrand ripped a Canadian flag patch off his hat after being removed from a game on Canada Day, though Hillenbrand denied this.
He was designated for assignment that same evening, with the club citing irreconcilable differences. Two days later, Hillenbrand was traded to the San Francisco Giants with reliever Vinnie Chulk in exchange for Giants reliever Jeremy Accardo. He later admitted to writing the comments on the board.
Hillenbrand signed a one year contract with the Angels on December 26, 2006. On June 27, 2007, he was designated for assignment a day after being quoted as saying, "If I'm not going to play here, give me enough respect to trade me or get rid of me." On July 9, 2007, having been replaced by the emergence of Reggie Willits and first baseman Casey Kotchman, Hillenbrand was waived by the Angels.
He signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres on July 27, 2007. He spent 12 days with the Padres' Class-AAA affiliate, the Portland Beavers, before being released on August 8, 2007. He hit .147 during that span. He signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers two days later on August 10, 2007. He was called up to the Major Leagues three days later on August 13.
In 2008, Hillenbrand went unsigned by any major league organization, only being contacted by the San Francisco Giants during the off season. On July 2, 2008, the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League announced that they had signed Hillenbrand to be their starting third basemen.
Hillenbrand and his wife Jessica have two adopted children, Austin and Dakota. They reside in the offseason on a ranch in Gilbert, Arizona. They own a full-size quarter horse, three miniature horses, 30 tortoises, three rabbits, many lemurs and four schnauzers.
- MLB players who have hit 3 home runs over consecutive innings
- Major League Baseball hitters with three home runs in one game
- Jeff Guinee. Obstructed View. Fox Sports Net New England. Retrieved on 2007-06-28.
- Jays ship Hillenbrand to Giants. CBC Sports. Archived from the original on 2008-05-03. Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
- Bastian, Jordan (2006-07-20). Hillenbrand story continues unfolding. Major League Baseball. Retrieved on 2006-07-26.
- Amicable divorce: Angels designate Hillenbrand for Assignment. Sports Illustrated (2007-06-27). Retrieved on 2007-06-28.
- Jim Seip (2008-07-02). York lands Hillenbrand. York Daily Record. Retrieved on 2008-07-02.
- Hillenbrand relaxes with animals. MLB.com (2006-10-18). Retrieved on 2007-07-02.