It's an hour before a routine practice on a warm Monday afternoon. The JV team is spread along the right field foul line stretching and throwing as their practice gets under way.
Mallard Creek head coach Shawn McGeorge is making his way to the field, but before he can get there, a car pulls up. Out steps a kid who confidently strolls to the dugout, shakes hands with the assistant coach and has a quick hello to some of the players gathered for practice.
It is Monday today, but it could be any day. For Mikal Hill, the Mavericks do-everything shortstop, the baseball field is where he feels at home. He has had a baseball in his hand since he can remember, and loves to play the game. He is pretty good at it, too.
Hill, the reigning Mecklenburg County and All-Observer Area Player of the Year, is hitting more than .600 for the year. He has hit two home runs, driven in 12 runs, scored 19 more and anchored the defense for the eighth-ranked team in the Observer Sweet 16.
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"He is just one of those people. He is just as good on the field as he is off it," McGeorge said. "Most of his accolades come on the field, but as a person and as a student and classmate, he is one of the best ambassadors we could possibly have at a school. He does it the right way and is humble and a good person and great player."
Hill has been the steady influence on a team that is full of talent. Although he gets much of the press, there are plenty of talented players on the team. Brandon Wilkerson, Blaine Lewis, Jamel Harbison and Kenny Bynum could start on most area teams, but it is Hill who makes everything go.
"We have really strong batters one through nine in the lineup," Hill said. "I feel like this year they are pitching around me some because I have drawn a few more walks, but with guys hitting around me they are going to have to take their chances with all of us."
"I can't complain about the start to my season. There are always some at bats that I would love to take back, but overall I am pretty pleased and happy with it."
Hill has spent the past few summers competing in local and national All-Star camps. He plays locally for the Carolina Dirtbags, but has participated in camps such as The National Showcase, the East Coast Pro, the East Cobb Invitational and the Perfect Game at the Aflac All-American Game.
Impact Baseball's Futures Game named Hill the best athlete in the event.
"Those showcases with all of the scouts watching, all I can do is try to make my mark and maybe stand out a little. I want to make all of the routine plays, but also show off my arm and range when I can. I really just try to show my skills and go all out any time I can," Hill said.
"The Tournament of Stars showcases the top 150 recruits in the nation. There are people that are going to USC, UNC, Arizona, Florida. None of the pitchers there threw less than 92 mph - they all had great curve balls and changeups; it was a great experience for me. I did not play my best, but I know that I can stack up well against those guys and hold my own. It was a confidence booster, though."
McGeorge says Hill is not an average superstar high school player. He said Hill is the best player he has ever been around, but Hill doesn't let it go to his head.
"You see Mikal at school and he is just one of the guys," McGeorge said. "If you don't know who he is, Mikal is just a nice kid who does great in school, is popular and respectful to everyone."
Many of the showcases Hill attends say he is a five-tool talent, which is the highest praise for a prospect. The five tools refer to a player being able to hit for power, hit for average, possess great speed and instincts on the bases, can field his position and has a great arm.
McGeorge sees those talents, but goes one step further.
"The work ethic and the talent is there. I see him playing baseball for a long time. He is smart in the classroom, but also in baseball intelligence," McGeorge said.
"I would say he is not a five-tool player, but he has the sixth tool, which is his smarts. He is always in the right place and puts himself where he needs to be in all situations. I could see him coaching, too, down the road, and (he) has everything it takes to be successful in this game for a long time."
Hill, who committed after his sophomore season to South Carolina, carries a 4.2 GPA, and although he says he slacked off a little as a senior, is still making all As. He said the Gamecocks, who won college baseball's National Championship last year, showed the most personal attention to him and seemed like the best fit.
"It is really cool that I am going to play for the National Champions next year. It makes me want to work as hard as I can to contribute, and I can't wait to get on the field," Hill said. "Coach Tanner really showed an interest in me and took the time to get to know me and ask about my family. It meant a lot to me."
Hill will star at South Carolina next year, if he is not given a huge signing bonus after June's amateur Major League Baseball draft. The question is not if Hill will be drafted, but where and which team will pick him. Mock drafts have him going anywhere from the third round to the eighth and almost anywhere in between.
"My dad and I have talked about it some," Hill said. "What happens after the draft is my decision. I have put some thought into it, but haven't given it too much consideration yet. To me, I will take it when it comes and it isn't worth thinking about until it happens."
Hill has the pedigree to succeed. His father played AA in the Pirates organization and his brother Alex is an outfielder at UNC Wilmington.
Hill will probably have a decision to make after the June MLB draft, but will always have his grades and hard work in school to fall back on. Hill knows nothing lasts forever, but is excited to see how far baseball can take him.