Here’s how two former Westmont roommates eventually joined the famed baseball organization
Editor’s note: This story is about how Rob Hill and Sean Coyne went from being Westmont College graduates to coaches in the Dodgers organization.
In 2014, Skagit Valley College freshman Rob Hill allowed 14 runs in 5.2 innings of work, and struck out just two batters while walking 17.
Hill, who struggled with confidence and experienced yip-like struggles during the season with the Mount Vernon, Wash. team, considered quitting the game of baseball.
Before hanging up his spikes for good, Hill’s father, Edward, pressed his son to give it one last shot, and urged him to venture to Kent, Wash., and train at an up-and-coming baseball facility by the name of Driveline.
That trip in the summer of 2014 began a domino effect that led to Hill receiving the same World Series ring as Clayton Kershaw more than six years later, and has led not one, but two former Westmont baseball players to work in one of baseball’s most storied organizations.
However, long before Hill would be name-dropped in conversations with the likes of Walker Buehler, he needed to figure out how to throw a fastball.
“When I first went up to Driveline, I was only working out twice a week,” said Hill. “That was back when it was just Kyle Boddy (founder of Driveline) and Mike Rathwell (CEO of Driveline), and I didn’t really know the science of it. I was just kind’ve following along.
“After about a month of training, after a season where I was throwing in the low 80s without knowing where it was going, I was sitting from 86 to 88 and throwing it exactly where I wanted. At that point, I asked ‘What the heck is this?’”
Hill found immediate success following his first trip up to Driveline, and was Skagit Valley’s Friday starter his sophomore year, an honor reserved for the aces of college baseball. However, Hill pitched through injuries during his sophomore campaign, and after-the-fact, was diagnosed with a torn labrum.
When Hill went in for surgery, however, the doctors found no structural damage in his shoulder, and merely “cleaned up” the surrounding area. Due to the ultimately unnecessary surgery, Hill would not throw another competitive pitch for almost a year-and-a-half.
During Hill’s rehabilitation process in 2015, the right-hander came into contact with former Westmont assistant coach Jeff Calhoun (who has since become the head baseball coach at Biola). Calhoun witnessed Hill working out at Driveline, as another year had passed, and Hill became increasingly aware of the science behind baseball’s newest evolution.
With two years of eligibility remaining, Hill decided to transfer to Westmont College beginning in the spring of 2016.
“After talking to Calhoun, the type of environment that they were interested in creating appealed to me,” noted Hill. “Not only Calhoun, but after talking to Robert Ruiz (Westmont’s head coach) and Tony Cougoule (former Westmont pitching coach), I could see they weren’t just interested in developing baseball players, but developing good men. It was something I could get excited about.”
The next person involved in the domino effect of Hill’s Westmont journey was freshman right-hander Sean Coyne, who had been a Warrior for four months before Hill arrived on campus. Coyne, like many others, initially second-guessed Hill’s training methods that had not yet reached the mainstream of baseball development.
“Looking back, we hit it off pretty quickly,” said Coyne, “but when I first met him,’ I thought ‘who is this guy and why is he carrying a trampoline everywhere?’”
“The more I got to know him, however, the more I realized how similar our underlying characteristics were.”
Coyne, much like Hill, was a student of the game that was not-quite blessed with a right-arm naturally capable of throwing in the mid-nineties.
“When I was still rehabbing during my first semester at Westmont, Sean and I got really close,” reflected Hill. “I was a little bit older but we quickly found a common ground and after the 2016 season, we got him up to Driveline and got after it.”
During Coyne’s first summer of training at the Driveline facility, he experienced similar success to Hill’s first go-around. After throwing a fastball in the low 80s as a freshman, a video posted to twitter by Driveline shows Coyne hitting 88 mph at the end of the summer.
After Coyne’s summer of training provided instant dividends, and Hill’s rehab progressed, they made the decision to be roommates when they headed back to Westmont in the fall of 2016.
“We ended up living together in Armington and that’s when our relationship really took off,” said Coyne. “We were talking pitching nonstop, watching videos of guys pitching, and just consuming all kinds of content we thought we could learn from. We just repeatedly asked ourselves, ‘How can we be great?’”
On Feb. 25, 2017, a day Hill describes as “one of the best days of my life”, the transfer experienced a rush that few men who ever pick up baseball experience. In a game the Warriors ultimately won 6-5 in extras, Coyne came on in relief in the fifth inning and stranded a pair of runners to keep the Warriors in the game.
Then, in the sixth inning, Hill came on in relief and fired a 1-2-3 inning, striking out a pair of batters in the process. After the game, and after three years of reinventing himself as a pitcher, Hill was informed of the magic number he touched.
“David Gaydos told me after the game that I hit 90, and I said ‘no way’,” chuckled Hill. “It was an emotional day, no doubt.”
While Hill and Coyne continued training and logging innings for the Warriors, 2018 and 2019 offered bittersweet roadblocks for the pair who saw their playing days come to an abrupt end.
Hill once again was forced to battle through injuries and managed to throw just 4.2 innings as a senior in 2018, when his eligibility expired.
“I took about a month off following graduation to just collect my thoughts,” said Hill, looking back on the end of his playing career. “I needed some time away from the game, and honestly, away from everything in general, but I knew I was headed back to Driveline. So, after a bit of time, I packed up and headed that way.”
Beginning in June 2018, Hill began working full time at Driveline, where he developed into one of the company’s most prominent names as he dove into the world of biomechanics and pitch development. Hill knew, however, that he would not feel right teaching professionals to do drills he could not perform himself.
Over the next 10 months, Hill lost 50 pounds, repatterned his delivery, and revamped the way he originally thought about throwing.
In April of 2019, Hill posted a video on twitter of himself pitching with the caption, “Finally threw a few actual fastballs for the first time in my life. Maybe this Driveline stuff actually works.” Five years after his first experience at Driveline, Hill was sitting at 95 miles an hour.
A month after Hill posted that video, Coyne’s college career ended in heartbreaking fashion, as Westmont was walked-off on its own field to end their season, after a 12-inning classic in the NAIA Opening Round.
Westmont fell two wins short of the NAIA World Series, which is still the closest the program has ever been.
“My career ended on a walk-off home run and I was watching from the bullpen,” reflected Coyne. “I was really mad at baseball for a long time, not feeling like I was ready to be done with the game. I thought about it a lot, I prayed about it a lot, and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t done with baseball. I just didn’t know what that was going to mean for me.”
Following his graduation from Westmont, Coyne spent four-and-a-half months as the pitching coach at Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego. Then, in the fall of 2019, both Hill and Coyne’s resiliency to stay involved in the game began leading to more and more opportunities.
Following the 2019 season, a big-leaguer who regularly practiced Driveline methods suggested to teammate Alex Wood that a meeting with Hill could provide instant dividends.
Wood is quoted in a Dodgers Insider blog stating, “If I was going to do it, I wanted to work with the best person there.” Hill led Wood in a handful of workouts during the off-season, and after the left-hander inked a deal to return to the Dodgers, some of Wood’s teammates made the trip up to meet with Hill as well.
Those sessions included future Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw, as well as Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ all-time leader in saves.
“That was surreal, especially at that time,” Hill said. “I hadn’t worked with a ton of professional guys up to that point, so to have those guys vouch for me and affirm what I was bringing to the table was just surreal.”
After hitting it off with players such as Wood and Jansen, Hill began to wonder about the possibility of working for the club. After discussions with members of the Dodgers’ front office and player development staff, Hill was hired ahead of the 2020 season as a pitching coordinator.
Around the time of Hill’s hiring, he was also able to lend a helping hand to Coyne, who was still unsure of the route he wanted to take post-playing.
“I got a call from Rob right before he joined the Dodgers actually,” said Coyne. “He told me I should apply for the pitching internship at Driveline, and I kind’ve laughed and said, ‘No way’. I didn’t feel like I was qualified, having no clue about the biomechanical side of stuff that Driveline had really taken over. Rob, basically, cut me off and said, “You’re good enough. I know you can do it’.”
Sure enough, as Hill departed for Camelback Ranch and his first Spring Training with the Dodgers, Coyne was hired as an intern at Driveline, where he would spend the 2020 season.
While the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on the first few months of both Hill and Coyne’s breaks, by the time July rolled around, baseball was back, and the men went back to work.
Hill spent the 2020 season as a pitching coordinator at the Dodgers’ alternate site for minor league prospects, while Coyne spent the same time learning the ins and outs of the science that has revolutionized pitching as we know it.
During an eighth-month period at Driveline, Coyne earned two Driveline Baseball certifications, first in Foundations of Pitching and the second in Basics of Pitch Design.
For Hill, his first season in professional baseball culminated on October 27, 2020. That night, Wood, who averaged 88 miles an hour on his fastball in 2019, fired two shutout innings in relief during Game Six of the World Series. His final pitch, which earned him his third strikeout of the night, was clocked at 93.
Later that evening, the Dodgers, Wood, and Hill, were World Champions.
“It is pretty insane to think about,” said Hill, of his connection to the championship. “I’m just really grateful to be involved in the organization. Those guys have worked so hard for so long and to that point had fallen short a few times. It was really cool to see guys like Clayton and Alex, who had put the work in for years, get that final result. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
During that same fall of 2020, Coyne was given an opportunity to continue padding his coaching resume, this time in a familiar place.
“I talked to coach Ruiz at the end of the fall and we talked about the steps to get into coaching,” explained Coyne. “He was asking me what kind of school I wanted to coach at, what division, where geographically, etc. Basically, after about 20 minutes, the conversation shifted to how we could get me back to Westmont.
“Ruiz takes care of the people he cares about, and he really took care of me.”
Coyne returned to Westmont as an assistant pitching coach for the 2021 season, one that culminated in another trip to the NAIA Opening Round, where the Warriors hosted the tournament for the second time in three years.
“Having that season on the coaching side of things was so rewarding,” Coyne said. “Those guys put so much into me for four years, and I salivated at the thought of getting to pay that forward to the next group of guys.”
Finally, during spring 2021, Coyne received a phone call from Hill that kick-started the most recent plot twist in the former’s journey.
“Rob skipped right to the point and asked me if I was interested in ever moving to pro ball,” said Coyne. “I paused for a second then said, ‘Well, of course,’ and he just said ‘OK’ and hung up. So, I was left to chew on that possibility for a few months without any real follow-up.”
“I had been targeting Coyne to an extent for the past few years,” said Hill. “I didn’t think I’d be in the kind of role where I could actually do it, but I had fought for him to get the job at Driveline and it was easy to fight for him again.”
Over the summer, Hill called Coyne once again, and the two began talking about a variety of different positions. Then, during the tail end of the summer, things grew more serious when Hill advised Coyne to update his resume and work on a cover letter.
“It’s hard to put into words, but Sean has something you can’t teach,” explained Hill. “A person like him, who brings people together and brings good energy every day, is someone you want around. Sean has an elite ability to learn new information and translate it to other people in a way they can understand. He’s just the kind of person who you know is going to excel.
“Sean has always been somebody that I want on my team.”
Hill’s wish was granted in the fall, when Coyne received an offer to become a pitching coach in the Dodgers organization.
“I talked about it a lot with my family, and the Dodgers took care of me during the process,” said Coyne. “They were extremely respectful in wanting me to be able to leave Westmont at the right time, on my own terms. They said they saw how important this place and these people were to me. They said, ‘You tie a bow on that place in your life as best you can, and then we’ll get you out here.’”
Coyne will serve as a pitching coach at the Dodgers spring training facility at Camelback Ranch during the 2022 season.
“The full circle nature of this story is almost surreal,” reflected Westmont head coach Robert Ruiz. “To see how Rob has grown in his career and now to see Sean follow a similar path is incredible. Understanding their backstory, what they brought to our program here at Westmont, and now seeing the impact they are having as professionals is just astounding.”
Along with Hill and Coyne, former Westmont pitching coach Tony Cougoule is currently a minor league pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs.
Former Warrior closer Bailey Reid was signed by the Cubs in 2020, and is currently climbing the ranks for the club, having crossed paths with Cougoule along the way in 2021.
Other professional ties for Westmont baseball are Michael Stefanic, who is expected to make his major league debut for the Angels in 2022, and Andrew Vasquez, who has appeared in the big leagues with both the Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins.
“It’s exciting to see members of our program staying involved and influencing the game at the highest levels,” said Ruiz. “Those former Warriors that are playing and coaching in professional baseball are the type of people that will positively influence their organizations.
“It is what I love most about Westmont. So many people graduate from here every year that go out and positively impact the world living out God’s calling on their lives. I appreciate that baseball can be a small part of that process.”
When head coach Robert Ruiz took over the club in 2010, the Warriors were 220 games under .500. Since then, the Warriors are 102 games above .500, and have continued to grow their legacy throughout the baseball world while prioritizing their development of players as men, far more than anything they are in-between the lines.
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.