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04/13/12 6:51 PM ET

Hill: Jackie opened door to front office as well

Ex-Minor Leaguer first African-American GM in Marlins history

MIAMI -- Early on, Mike Hill recognized that the playing field wasn't the only avenue available to making a living in the big leagues.

Harvard-educated, Hill played collegiate baseball and football, and he spent time in the Minor Leagues in the Reds' and Rangers' systems.

Playing the game was a passion, but it wasn't his strength. The fact he advanced to the lower levels of professional baseball was a proud accomplishment. The realist in him told him his future wasn't on the field.

Looking at the bigger picture in his life, Hill refocused and followed another path -- turning to player development, which has now landed him as the general manager of the Marlins.

Hill is the first African-American GM in franchise history.

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"I felt that it was a good avenue to pursue, given there is a shortage," Hill said. 'We've seen, over the years, a shrinking number of African-Americans on the field, and in the front offices. I felt like it was something I wanted to pursue and hopefully make a career out of."

Being promoted to the front office didn't come by accident. It was always an aspiration.

Of course, there was a love of playing the game. But only a small percentage of players are able to reach the highest level.

"When you are realistic with your abilities and your shortcomings, which I was, it made it easier," Hill said. "I saw [the front office] as a great opportunity, given my skill sets, my strengths as a player with a Harvard degree."

Major League Baseball and the rest of America are celebrating Jackie Robinson Day on Sunday, and the legacy of the man who broke the game's color barrier. It's a day to reflect and honor a pioneer for all minorities.

"You look at all he did, breaking the color barrier, and essentially opening the door for minorities everywhere, to play in Major League Baseball, and to work in Major League Baseball," Hill said. "In that regard, you're just hugely indebted to Jackie Robinson and what he did, and what he sacrificed for essentially all minorities, domestically and internationally.

"Growing up, I obviously learned a lot about Jackie Robinson, and knew what he did in breaking the color barrier. It wasn't until I got older that I realized that he essentially was one of the founders of the civil rights movement, the great cause for all minorities. He essentially started it back in 1947. It's something every young American hopefully is aware of, what he went through."

While Hill has educated himself on Robinson's impact, he hopes others in the game truly understand the meaning of celebrating Jackie Robinson Day.

"I hope they do," Miami's GM said. "Given so many people get absorbed in their lives and what they do day to day. But I consider myself a historian of the game. I respect the history of the game. I understand what sacrifices and what issues that he dealt with, as he broke the color barrier and he opened the door for many others, on the field, in dugouts and in front offices."

Hill's official title is vice president and general manager, and he's held the post for five seasons and has been with the Marlins for 10 years.

The Rangers selected Hill in the 31st round of the First-Year Player Draft in 1993, and he spent two seasons in their system. In '95, he was with the Reds' organization, a homecoming for the Ohio native.

Hill's lone year in Cincinnati's system ended up being his last as a player.

Now he has 17 years of front-office experience working with the Rockies, Rays and the Marlins.

"GM was always part of my goal," Hill said.

Still, he's reaching for more.

If the cards fall right, he dreams to one day calling the shots -- in an ownership capacity.

Hill points to the recent sale of the Dodgers, who have former NBA great Magic Johnson as part of their ownership group.

"We're always working to make ourselves better, and make the team better," Hill said. "And we're always trying to challenge ourselves. You look in Major League Baseball, and you see what's happening with the Dodgers, and Magic Johnson, part of the new ownership going into Los Angeles. It's definitely something that if things work out the right way, it would be something I'd love to do one day."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.