DETROIT (TNS) — Sweat dripped down reliever Tim Hill's face, under the collar of his Royals jersey and onto his neck.
Hill, 28, had just pitched a perfect ninth inning on a late March afternoon in Scottsdale, Ariz. The side-slinging left-hander the Royals chose to protect from December's Rule 5 draft retired three Diamondbacks minor-leaguers with the help of ground balls and a five-pitch strikeout. He preserved a tie in the Royals' penultimate game of the spring.
The appearance, Hill's final audition for a spot on the Royals' 25-man roster, couldn't have gone more smoothly.
Yet as Hill descended the steps into the visiting dugout, he could not stop the perspiration from collecting at collarbones.
"I think I'm being optioned down," he had told his girlfriend moments earlier.
Why else would manager Ned Yost, just days from finalizing his Opening-Day roster, beckon Hill to his office in a tone so serious it brooked no room for argument? Surely not to offer Hill, who had never pitched above Class AA Northwest Arkansas, a job in the Royals' bullpen.
"Certain buddies would be in my ear. 'Dude, you might make the team,' " Hill said. "I was like, 'Nah, I don't wanna hear it.'
"You can't really expect anything."
So he didn't as he sat with Yost and dissected his spring. Through seven Cactus League outings, Hill threw scoreless innings in six. He scattered four hits. He allowed two earned runs and issued a pair of walks. Not too shabby for the first big-league camp of his professional career.
But Hill's anxiety crested when Yost abruptly called star third baseman Mike Moustakas in from the hallway to join their chat.
"Do you think he can get big-league hitters out?" Hill remembers Yost asking the All-Star third baseman.
"I said, 'Absolutely, yes,' " Moustakas recalled, standing in the middle of the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park this week.
For a brief moment, Hill was stunned.
Nearly two weeks and countless re-tellings later, Hill still finds that part of the story to be the most surreal. He wanted to ask Yost to repeat himself, to tell him a second time, "You're going to the big leagues."
Hill never asked. He just propelled himself into Moustakas' side for a hug. Then he turned to shake Yost's hand and pulled the 62-year-old in for a half-embrace, too.
"I was hoping for (sometime) this year; 'I wanna get called up,' " Hill said. " 'That would be cool.' "
Instead, he arrived at Kauffman Stadium last Monday night, hours after the Royals' exhibition game against the Class AAA Omaha Storm Chasers was canceled. He walked the tunnels of the stadium and ventured onto the field for the first time. In an Instagram video by teammate Eric Skoglund that has since been deleted, Hill could be seen turning in circles on the Kauffman dirt as he gazed up at the LED lights and ribbon boards.
He'd made it.
As Hill narrated the Yost scene in front of his locker in Detroit this week, some bullpen mates closed in. Many had already heard the story more than once, but they were amused to hear Hill go over it again.
One week into the major-league season, the tale hasn't stopped feeling magical yet.
"When you work your entire life to get to this point and you're actually told you've made the major-league team, it's a pretty special feeling," Moustakas said. "To be able to share that with him, it was awesome."