There is a movement afoot in Boston. There are fans of the Boston Red Sox, devoted fans, who are urging their team to invite the manager of the Dodgers to throw out a first pitch in the World Series.
This is not about sportsmanship. This is about history, in a city steeped in history.
Dave Roberts might have made the most revered dash in New England since Revere himself. Paul, that is.
In 2004, Roberts stole the base heard ’round the world. The Red Sox followed his lead and won their first World Series championship since 1918, when their Game 1 starting pitcher was a jolly fellow named Babe Ruth.
It had been so many years, so many generations, that New Englanders could be forgiven for buying into the silliness that the Red Sox had been cursed by trading Ruth. The Red Sox had won, the curse had been reversed, and it was time to party.
In Milton, about 10 miles south of Fenway Park, a father and his son bundled up and headed to the big city to celebrate. Of the three million folks lining the streets and hanging out of windows and looking down from rooftops, the Boston Globe happened to interview the father.
“I’ve waited my whole life for this,” Lloyd Hill told the Globe. And he had. He was 76. It had been 86 years since the Red Sox had last won.
His son, Rich, was a minor league baseball player. Rich grew up rooting for the Red Sox, for Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman, for Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens.
He was a fan of the Red Sox, and an employee of the Chicago Cubs. Which logo did he wear to the parade?
Neither, as it turned out.
“I was neutral,” he said.
It is a heartwarming, if formulaic, story line: the kid trying to beat his hometown team in the World Series.
“For me, it is extra special, no doubt,” Hill said.
What puts the “extra” in “extra special” is that the Red Sox revived his career. Hill had endured a decade of trying times. He was in the minor leagues, in the major leagues, back in the minors again. He was hurt, healthy, hurt again.
In 2014, in the 13th season of his professional career, the Angels desperately needed an arm. In Hill, they found an expendable one, in the bullpen of the triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. Boston freed Hill from his minor league contract for a major league chance elsewhere.
Hill faced four batters for the Angels. He did not retire any of them, and unemployment followed.
By the following summer, he was pitching for the Long Island Ducks, in a last-chance independent league. He had abandoned the regimen prescribed for him by the teams that kept releasing him. He would do it his way: a starting pitcher relying on his best pitch, his curve, rather than a reliever trying to fling not-so-fast fastballs from a sidearm angle.
Hill invited the Red Sox to check him out. They did, and they afforded him four starts at the end of a last-place season. His promise was so tantalizing – 29 innings, five runs, five walks, 36 strikeouts – that the Oakland Athletics gave him a $6 million contract. One year later, the Dodgers rewarded him with a $48-million contract.
“For me, personally, the ties that I have to Boston, and them giving me the opportunity to come back, and essentially to be in this position with the Dodgers, I owe a great deal of gratitude to that organization,” Hill said. “With that said, Los Angeles has given me an unbelievable opportunity as well.”
Last year, Hill could pitch in his first World Series. This year, he could pitch in the World Series without leaving home.
“To get back to the World Series is amazing,” Hill said. “Just to be in this position is unbelievable.”
Everyone loves a parade. The Red Sox have enjoyed three recently, three chances for parents and kids here to share one. So here’s hoping that Hill pitches in to beat the Red Sox, so that a generation of Angelenos finally have a chance to bond as he did with his father: packed along a crowded street, cheering the World Series champions.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin