For Rich Hill, it's good to be home. The Red Sox' 31-year-old reliever grew up in Milton idolizing Wade Boggs and Mo Vaughn before embarking on a storied career at Milton High that saw him get drafted in the 36th round and earn a scholarship to the University of Michigan. Hill was taken again in the seventh round in 2001 by the Angels, but once again did not sign and returned to Ann Arbor for a third season.
Finally in 2002, he turned pro after getting picked in the fourth round by the Cubs, and his career has since taken off. He made his debut in June of 2005 at the age of 25, and played four seasons before getting traded to Baltimore. Last summer, after opting out of a free agent contract with the Cardinals, he was picked up by the Red Sox, eventually getting called up in September. He has since found a spot in the Sox' bullpen, occasionally making an appearance in relief.
The whole body of work has been a fun ride for Hill, who has a career ERA of 4.57 and 22-20 record headed into this week. But his time here bears special sentiment for obvious reasons. Hill sat down yesterday with ESPNBoston.com to discuss his career path, his brothers, long-time Milton skipper Ted Curley, and the best places to eat around town.
Q: You have a big family, can you talk about growing up?
A: "Yeah, I have three brothers and a sister. They're older than I am. But yeah, we had a big family, lots of friends, and a lot of fun growing up in the area. You know, playing street hockey, we'd play home run derby, always doing something after school outside. Whether it was playing baseball, or like I said, street hockey, or pond hockey in the winter."
Q: How influential were your brothers?
A: "Well, they were very influential. I grew up watching them play baseball. They played in the park league, and they went on to play in college. One of my brothers [Lloyd] played at Colby, [another] one [Larry] played at Boston College, my other brother John was a gymnast at Syracuse. My sister Cathy, she played field hockey and basketball [at Bridgewater State]. I got to watch a lot of sporting events and games, lot of baseball -- lot of baseball."
Q: Ted Curley is a pretty colorful guy at Milton.
A: "Isn't he?" (laughs).
Q: How much fun was it playing for him?
A: "Oh, it was great, we always had a blast. We got our work done, we always had a purpose when we were doing something. We made sure that we did it right, we made sure that we got our work in, but we also had fun at the same time. There was a lot of great talent, lot of great players on the team when I was there. It was just a lot of fun, especially when school was kinda getting over with and you were still playing baseball. That was a lot of fun."
Q: What kind of lessons did you take from him that you still hold with you?
A: "I just think one of the things he always wanted was guys to show up on time and work hard. I mean, it's very simple and I've heard it from a lot of coaches as I've gone through. It's a common theme with a lot of teams that I've been with. But, yeah, it kinda started back at Milton High School with him as far as, you come in, you get your work done. We're not here to goof around and play around. We're here to take our work seriously, and then if there's time afterward, we'll play games as far as stuff like hitting games. Usually, it was hitting games more than anything else."
Q: Do you remember the first time in high school you pitched before a radar gun? And what was it like?
A: "I guess. I can remember scouts coming to the games, and seeing a lot of radar guns behind home plate. At such a young age, and so green, you try and throw for the radar gun, you reach back and throw as hard as you can. I can just remember them coming to Cunningham Park, and a few scouts from the area and around, I guess, the country too. They'd come in, and yeah, you'd try to reach back and show them 'this is how hard I can throw it'. It's kind of a primitive way of going about my business but (laughing)...I was 16 or 17 years old, somewhere around sophomore or junior year, right in there."
Q: You were drafted by the Reds in 1999. Did you guys have any party leading up to it? And when you got called, how did it feel?
A: "Nah, nothing special really. But yeah, it was exciting to get drafted. I didn't understand anything about professional baseball whatsoever except for, you know, I really enjoyed the Red Sox. I didn't understand the business side of anything, really didn't know what an agent was or what the agent's job was to do. I was really immature at that point in my career professionally, on how to handle everything. So, we were excited, it was definitely a great honor to get drafted -- especially out of high school, it was a big deal. From there, I moved on to Michigan, and it was a great choice at the time. I would still [make that choice] if I had to do it all over again, because I wasn't ready for professional baseball."
Q: So how did that compare to when you got picked again in 2002?
A: "A few years later, and a little bit older, a little bit more mature. I felt like another year closer to college, to get that degree, it was so important to get closer to that degree. As opposed to two years, now I only have to go back for one year. So I decided not to sign with Anaheim [in 2001] and go back to Michigan. For me, it was another great move to go back to a great university, just being back in familiar environment with a lot of great teammates."
Q: The attraction for some of these high-major schools you see recruiting pitchers in the Northeast is that they feel the arms are fresh. What are your thoughts on that?
A: "Yeah, I'm sure there's not a lot of mileage on the guys up here. As soon as you get from Georgia down, all the way into Florida, you have year-round baseball. And it's starting to become a trend here in the northeast, with indoor stuff. A lot of indoor stuff is starting to get heavily promoted. But I don't think it comes close to how the guys are being used down in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, the Carolinas and such. But yeah, there's less mileage on the guys from up here.
"In my opinion, I think for kids that go to college, the talent's got to be there -- A. And the work ethic's got to be there. And also, you've got to find the right fit with coaching. You've got to find the right coaches, which is tough because nowadays there's a lot of people promoting themselves as professionals and experts in the field, and sometimes parents might be spending money in the areas that these people might not be qualified. However, with that said, it ultimately comes down to the kid's choice, where they want to pursue their career."
Q: What were your first couple days in 'The Show' like?
A: "It was great. I remember being told back in '05 being told that, 'Hey, you're going to be going up to the big leagues'. It was a huge honor just to get there, first of all, you know, all the hard work that you've done over your career to get to that point, to get to the big stage -- "The Show", as they call it...The first couple days were obviously an adjustment. You know, where you belong, how you go about your business. And that takes a while, that took me more than just a couple days to figure out the routine. You're constantly adjusting. It's something that you want to master as a routine you have, and you don't want to sway from it. You want to stay on track with that routine, because that helps you become more consistent. Those first couple days when I got called up were another stepping stone, a nice achievement to all the hard work I'd put in."
Q: Growing up a Red Sox fan, that first time you put on the jersey, how did it feel?
A: "Just great. Another thing that, growing up that was the only team you associated yourself with from the area. You obviously have dreams of playing for that team growing up, watching Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn, Jody Reed, Marty Barrett, Carlos Quintana, a lot of guys...Mike Greenwell, there were a lot of guys. You watch them, and that's where you want to be and you want to play. So that finally coming to a fulfillment, and especially an organization that's come around in the last decade -- a changing of the guard, so to say -- it's regained that mystique that it had before."
Q: How do playing at Wrigley and Fenway compare?
A: "They're similar, in the sense that Fenway Park is obviously one of the oldest stadiums, and with Wrigley, two of the oldest stadiums in baseball. I think the fans are both very passionate, very into every pitch of the game. I think here in Boston, for me it's a little bit different, obviously, being from Massachusetts it holds a little higher regard. But obviously, Wrigley is very special to me, too. That's where I first got called up, where I first pitched in the big leagues. I think anybody could understand the reasoning behind placing Fenway first, because you grew up here and this is what you really associate yourself with as a young kid."
Q: What were your favorite places to eat and hang out growing up?
A: "I used to always ride my bike in East Milton Square, and there was a couple places. C.J.'s Sub Shop was the place we used to go and eat. I don't know if that's still around, it might be a different name now. There was a pizza place there, can't remember the name of it...we'd just have slices of pizza, we only had a couple bucks on us and we'd grab whatever. There was always something to do. We'd ride our bikes to Cunningham Park, or we might go down to Wendell Park, where a lot of my friends lived, and we'd go up to Pierce Middle School and play on those fields. We were always outside doing something, as far as athletically. We were kinda honing out skills (laughs)."
Q: Best moment of your high school career?
A: "If I can remember, right? (laughs) I had a no-hitter in the Bay State Games, that was fun. Al Smith was the coach, he was the athletic director at Randolph High School at the time. That was a really exciting moment for me in high school, the Bay State Games are such a big deal, being able to do that was a lot of fun. I had some great games at Milton High. I remember stealing home in the playoffs. I think I pitched after that, too, and I hit a home run later in the game [against Barnstable, in 1999, the quarterfinals of the Division 1 South Sectional. Milton lost in extra innings]. Either my junior or senior year, I made the [Bay State Conference] All-Star Team for hitting, not pitching...Walpole was always good back then, Brookline was good, Dedham was good. Dedham had great pitching. The Bay State League was good. We always had good pitching as well, so it was interesting."
Q: What was the No. 1 thing you had to take care of, to progress the way you have? And what advice would you give to high school kids who want to someday make "The Show"?
A: "I think the thing I had to improve upon was overall strength in my body. When you gain strength in your body, you can gain control of your movements. And then when you gain control of your movements, it's easier to repeat them. And then when you repeat them, everything becomes more consistent. Moves in that order is the kind of fashion I went about: gaining strengths, repeating my movements and gaining consistency. But really just overall, coming up with a routine, and becoming consistent with that routine on a daily basis.
"And then, wanting to work. There are days when you don't want to do anything, but you make yourself get up and get into your routine. Get into the gym. You know, I don't think I've had a day where I didn't want to throw off the mound in a bullpen, or pitch in a game. I've always wanted to go out there and go and get it, to this day, and work for it. That's the only advice that I really have, is that nothing comes easy. You're going to have to work for it, even if you are a guy who has a great fastball and a great curveball. It still doesn't come easy. That's something that's always a constant practice. You're always working, you're always getting better, there's always something you can work on, whether it's strength training, or working on your pitches, or working on your mental side of the game. It's always a work in progress."