After spending the previous two seasons as bench coach in Houston, Hillman negotiated a contract and was on his way to Korea to seal the two-year deal. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch are now searching for a bench coach for the 2017 season.
"I have to thank the Astros for even allowing me to interview after having a deal in place next season," Hillman said. "Jeff and A.J. have been wonderful about it and both said, 'Hey, if it's something that's good for your family, it sounds like it could be an opportunity too difficult to pass up.'"
Hillman will become the first manager of a professional team in three different countries. He managed the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan from 2003-07, leading them to a championship in '06 and two other postseason appearances.
"We weren't exactly thinking about going back to Asia and certainly not going back to Korea," Hillman said of him and his wife, Marie. "We were both thinking about one day going back to Japan because they mentioned several times that if it was right for both parties, they'd like me to come back."
Hillman, 53, was a special assistant in Major and Minor League operations for the Yankees in 2014 after spending the previous 11 years ('03-13) as a manager and bench coach, both in the big leagues and Japan.
The Amarillo, Texas, native managed the Royals from 2008-09 and part of '10, compiling a 152-207 record. He served as bench coach for the Dodgers for three years ('11-13) before working a year for the Yankees and eventually joining Hinch in Houston.
Hillman has already met with corporate ownership in a two-hour luncheon last week in Korea and has talked with the coaching staff and the players on the roster. He's going to return to Korea next week for two days and fly from there to a mini camp in Japan that will give him another opportunity to meet with some players.
SK Wyverns will start its Spring Training in Vero Beach for three weeks in February and then transition to Okinawa, Japan, which will give Hillman a chance to see his Japanese friends and schedule scrimmages against them. Hillman will miss most the friends and colleagues he leaves behind in Houston.
"We're losing quite a bit as we're leaving, but we have to feel the gain outweighed that, along with this was God's direction where he wanted our lives to go right now," Hillman said. "I wish the Astros nothing but the best, but I still stay in close contact with the Astros family from afar and consider them first line of phone calls when I need [advice]."