We were a region awash with inspiration Monday as determined marathoners ran and wheeled their way from Hopkinton to Copley Square. A similar story unspooled at Fenway Park, where 42-year-old Rich Hill took the mound only three days after the death of his father, Lloyd.
Major League Baseball allows for bereavement leave, but Hill decided to stay with the Red Sox and take his turn in the rotation as scheduled.
Lloyd Hill, who was 94, ran the Boston Marathon 37 times. So you can bet his son took the ball on Patriots’ Day.
But it went beyond that coincidence. One of the lessons his father taught Hill was to fulfill your obligations when people are counting on you.
“The job is to be a professional and show up no matter what circumstances there are outside of the clubhouse or outside of the lines,” Hill said, his voice breaking. “You show up and you’re a pro, and that’s something that I learned from my dad.”
A screenwriter would tell you Hill pitched one of the best games of his career and led the Sox to a stirring victory. This sportswriter has the unpleasant task of reporting that Hill was lifted in the fifth inning after allowing four runs in a game the Sox lost, 8-3.
Manager Alex Cora does not typically have a conversation of more than a few words when he comes to the mound to take out a pitcher. But he had a message for Hill.
“I can’t even imagine the emotions and the feelings and everything,” Cora said. “I told him we’re very proud of him. We’re family; we’re here for him.”
With the entire infield around him, Cora patted Hill on the back and called for a reliever. The crowd applauded as the lefthander slowly walked back to the dugout.
The effort is what mattered. Hill threw 80 pitches against a lineup stacked with righthanded hitters. Two-run homers by Kyle Garlick and Jorge Polanco were his undoing.
“I’ve got to throw the ball better, that’s all,” said Hill, who beats himself up like Marvin Hagler when he doesn’t pitch to his standards. “I know that this is a game of results and that loss is on me. We came up short because I didn’t set the tone right away.”
That was his father talking, too. Before a long career as an educator that included 25 years as principal of Quincy High School, Lloyd Hill was a 205-pound All-America tackle at Brown from 1948-50 known for his fierce determination on the field.
He signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Korean War took precedence, and Hill served with distinction as a first lieutenant with the infantry.
He came home, earned two advanced degrees, then became a teacher and coach. Hill and his wife Marguerite raised five children in Milton and had eight grandchildren.
That’s a life to be envied.
When Cora mapped out the rotation to start the season, he noticed Hill’s second start would fall on Marathon Monday. He considered switching some pieces around so the veteran wouldn’t have to make the 11:10 a.m. start.
But Hill said he was fine, and that didn’t change when his father died.
“I did everything I could to go out there and keep everything else emotionally in check,” he said. “From the standpoint of watching my dad growing up, watching the difficult times that he had, he always showed such great composure … He was always a pro.”
Hill is in his 18th season in the majors because he has the same qualities. This is his third stint with the Red Sox, the first coming in 2010. The team tried to sign him prior to last season, but the Rays made a better offer.
This time Hill was more amenable, in part because he valued being able to live at home in Milton during the season and spend more time with his wife Caitlin and son Brice.
“He’s one of us,” Cora said. “It just happened that he was pitching for other people the last few years.”
The Sox hope Hill can give them 150 solid innings and help create the type of clubhouse atmosphere that fuels contending teams.
“He’s another coach, in a sense,” Cora said. “He has so much knowledge and he’s been through everything in his career. He’s a sounding board for the kids who are here and for us as coaches to just learn from him.
“This is a guy, he’s looking for that ring and hopefully we can give him that. In that clubhouse, he means a lot to a lot of people.”