DUNEDIN — For 26 seasons, Tom Hilbert Sr. has sat loyally beside baseball managers on the Dunedin High School bench, the past 14 working as an assistant for his son, Tom Hilbert II.
Hilbert Sr. has assiduously avoided the spotlight. Instead, he and his brother, Don, have been content to work behind the scenes to ensure the clockwork precision of the Falcons’ program.
They have done more than just coach. They have helped Dunedin win — a lot.
Last month, the two achieved a milestone that is unmatched in Pinellas County baseball. They won their 1,000th game — combined — as Dunedin assistants. Don Hilbert, 52, has been with the program 21 years and Hilbert Sr., 64, has been there 26.
Hilbert II honored his dad and uncle by giving them a baseball to acknowledge the moment.
“I had no idea we were even close to that many wins,” Hilbert Sr. said. “My son pays more attention to stuff like that than I do.”
Next week, the Hilberts will coach in the 42nd annual Dunedin Invitational, the longest-running tournament in the state.
“It’s amazing to think my family has coached that long and won that many games,” Falcons manager Tom Hilbert II said.
• • •
In 1971, Tom Hilbert Sr. moved from Michigan to Dunedin. His brother joined him a few years later.
“I liked baseball, but it was hard to play in Michigan because of the snow and you were in the gym half the time,” Hilbert Sr. said.
The family became more involved in the game by coaching Hilbert II in Little League. That led to becoming assistants at Dunedin for legendary coach Greg Nichols.
In 1988, Hilbert II was the Falcons’ MVP. A year later, he was playing at Lake City Community College, then Florida Southern.
The rest of the Hilbert family stayed behind but was thinking of ways to be reunited as coaches.
They reunited in 1997 when Nichols retired. Hilbert II was coaching at Dixie Hollins and applied to return to his alma mater.
“I thought I would stay at Dixie Hollins for a while,” Hilbert II, now 40, said. “I didn’t turn in my resume at Dunedin until the last minute. But I was happy to be coaching for the first time with my dad and uncle.”
Baseball consumes their lives. Hilbert Sr. owns an auto repair business that is less than 2 miles from the Englebert Complex, where the Falcons practice and play. Don Hilbert works for the family business.
Even on off days, the Hilberts get together to go over pages of mental notes. They discuss what the pitcher likes to throw, what the pitcher wants to throw when he is ahead in the count, or behind in the count. They remember what the pitcher threw the last time they faced each other —was it back in February? — maybe a backdoor slider that nipped the outside corner for strike three.
“We have a red book with tons of stuff we go over with scouting reports,” Hilbert II said. “It’s three hours of work putting together those scouting reports. Thank goodness my mother (Judy) puts up with it.”
Hilbert Sr. has never cared to assume the leadership mantle.
“I have my own business and never really had aspirations about being a head coach,” he said. “I’m fine being an assistant. I now have two bosses — my wife and my son.”
When the season ends, whether Dunedin wins a state title, Hilbert Sr. and Don Hilbert will already be looking ahead to next year.
They have no plans to retire.
“I’ll keep coaching as long as they’ll have me,” Hilbert Sr. said.
Saturday: Northeast vs. Indian Rocks Christian, 11; Largo vs. Winter Park, 2; Cypress Creek vs. Lakewood, 5; Osceola vs. Clearwater, 8
Monday: loser’s bracket games, 2 and 5; semifinal, 8
March 29: loser’s bracket games, 2 and 5; semifinal, 8
March 30: consolation, 4; final, 7:30
Steve Georgiadis Memorial Tournament at Seminole
Monday: Shorecrest vs. Brooks-DeBartolo, 4; Pendleton vs. Plant City, 7
March 29: Dixie Hollins vs. Berkeley Prep, 4; Seminole vs. Boca Ciega, 7
March 30: loser’s bracket games, 4 and 7
March 31: semifinals, 4 and 7
April 1: loser’s bracket games, 4 and 7
April 2: consolation, 4; final, 7
Dunedin Tournament at Englebert
Monday: Countryside vs. River Ridge, 5; Tampa Catholic vs. Palm Harbor U., 5; Tarpon Springs vs. Canterbury, 7; Clearwater Central Catholic vs. Pinellas Park, 8; St. Petersburg vs. Carrollwood Day, 8
March 29: East Lake vs. Countryside-River Ridge winner, 5; CCC-Pinellas Park winner vs. St. Petersburg-CDS winner, 5; Dunedin vs. Tampa Catholic-PHU winner, 8; St. Petersburg Catholic vs. Tarpon Springs-Canterbury winner, 8
March 30: Semifinals, 5 and 8; loser’s bracket games, 5, 7 and 8
March 31: Loser’s bracket games, 5 and 8
April 1: Consolation games, 5; final, 8
Lady ’Canes Spring Tournament at Eddie C. Moore Complex
Friday: Countryside vs. Gulf, 6; Osceola vs. Plant, 6; East Lake vs. Robinson, 6; Tarpon Springs vs. East Bay, 6; Seminole vs. Chamberlain, 8; Armwood vs. Boca Ciega, 8; Bloomingdale vs. River Ridge, 8; Palm Harbor U. vs. Canterbury, 9
Saturday: loser’s bracket games, 8 a.m., noon, 4 and 6; quarterfinals, 10 a.m.; semifinals, 2; final, 6