For Rich Hill, MLB’s oldest pitcher, family legacy transcends game

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Lloyd Hill’s obituary was equal parts transcendent and understated. The summary of his 94 years reflected the way he lived.

With nouns and verbs like this, simple prose is all you need.

Graduate of Brown University, Bridgewater State University (M.Ed.), Suffolk University (J.D.) . . . Captain and All-American football tackle at Brown University . . . Distinguished Veteran of the Korean War . . . Completed 37 Boston Marathons.

“He never talked about his own abilities,” said Rich Hill, the Boston Red Sox left-hander and one of Lloyd’s five children. “Honestly, I heard a lot of stories about what he did for the first time after he passed away — from his nieces and nephews, people he worked with, people he coached.

“He always downplayed a lot of the things he did. Except for his family. That’s the one thing he always wanted to talk about.”

And when the time arrived to select a charity to benefit from memorial donations after Lloyd’s passing last month, there was one clear choice for the Hill family of Milton, Mass.

Brooks Hill, Rich’s son, was less than two months old when he passed away on Feb. 24, 2014, due to lissencephaly, a rare brain malformation, and congenital nephrotic syndrome.

Since then, Rich and his wife, Caitlin, have partnered with Massachusetts General Hospital to establish the Field of Genes fund. Rich said his family wants to make genetic testing available to larger numbers of families and express their gratitude for the extraordinary care Dr. David Sweetser, M.D., Ph.D., provided to Brooks.

Thus, one enduring legacy of Lloyd’s 94 years will be his support of the effort inspired by his late grandson.

“It’s fitting,” Rich Hill said in a recent phone conversation. “Very, very fitting.”

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Hill, whose Red Sox host the Chicago White Sox on Sunday at 11:35 a.m. ET on NBC and Peacock, said the research has two objectives. One is to expand treatment options for rare genetic diseases; the other is to improve the quality of life for the families impacted by such diseases, including in-home equipment for children with limited mobility.

One major challenge for families, Hill said, is that genetic testing isn’t always covered by medical insurance. Contributions also are directed toward the hiring of another full-time genetic researcher on staff at MGH.

“To look for a specific gene mutation is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, so a lot of the effort is toward helping the testing become more efficient,” Hill said. “For families, it’s so important to have answers about what’s going on with your child. To us, that’s one of the most important things Dr. Sweetser did for us. Two years after Brooks passed away, he gave us an answer as to what had happened to our son. We were grateful to know that, and we want families to have the information they need after showing such persistence.”

Rich and Caitlin have a goal of helping to raise $1 million for the Field of Genes campaign. The effort recently passed the $900,000 mark. The Hill family is dedicated to creating breakthroughs, because they know no other way.

For example: Rich Hill, 42, is the oldest pitcher in Major League Baseball this season. He’s still starting in the rugged American League East — with a 3.71 ERA, no less — more than a decade after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery and three seasons after a 2019 elbow injury threatened to end his career.

Hill made four consecutive postseason appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers, from 2016 through 2019; he had a 1.80 ERA over three World Series starts. Hill’s legendary competitiveness drew national attention when he sent a Gatorade bucket full of Hi-Chew candy scattering through the dugout in a moment of fury — directed at himself — in the 2018 NLCS.

Such is Hill’s demeanor when he pitches, a stark contrast to the affability and thoughtfulness he brings to the clubhouse at all other times. And even when Hill is overcome by his own ferocity, an abiding appreciation persists.

“This game is a business, but you can’t forget the parts of it you fell in love with as a kid,” Hill said during an Opening Day conversation at Yankee Stadium. “For me, it’s really important to remove the result from what you enjoy about the game. The fun is in putting forward the effort and enjoying the intensity of competition alongside your teammates.

“I really started to appreciate that more by playing with the Dodgers, because the expectation to win a championship was there every year. You saw how Clayton (Kershaw) set the tone, and then a really talented young pitcher like Walker (Buehler) arrived, and he had a great example to follow.”

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Hill isn’t prepared to say that this will be his final season. Why would he? He is, after all, the son of Lloyd Hill, who worked for 35 years as an administrator and coach in Quincy, Mass., including 20 years as principal at Quincy High School. He also served as an adjunct professor at Northeastern University and Quincy College.

The universality of Lloyd Hill’s impact in Quincy is reflected in which wing of the school bears his name. It’s neither the football nor baseball field, but rather the Lloyd Hill Center for Performing Arts.

“He was always attending plays and concerts,” Rich recalled. “He saw the arts and theater as really important parts of the school community, and he was a huge supporter of that. I know our family is really appreciative of how the district and performing arts department recognized that about my dad. I think that says a lot about him and the way he did his job.”

Lloyd was so accomplished in football that he was named to the Athletic Hall of Fame at Brown; he signed a professional contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers before his U.S. Army deployment to Korea took precedent.

With his football career over and military service complete, Lloyd remained active through New England’s most iconic athletic event: the Boston Marathon. Lloyd’s family knew he ran in it. But how often? That was another thing he wouldn’t brag about. It took a conversation with family near the end of Lloyd’s life for the truth to emerge.

Rich and his siblings thought he’d run it 20 times, maybe 25.

Nope.

“We were talking about it one day, and he said, ‘Well, I started in ’58,’” Rich recalled. “By the time we did the math, we realized he’d done it 37 times. We told him, ‘You never said a word about that!’ But what’s who he was.”

Perhaps more impressive than running the marathon was how he did it: in the back of the pack with the “bandits,” as they were known in those days.

He never registered with a number. He just ran.

“That was him,” Rich said. “He’d train for it, here and there, but just kept himself in great shape. He could have had a number, but he didn’t care about the ceremony and attention that would go along with that. That sums him up: running the Marathon without a number.”

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Hill had pitched for the Red Sox twice before — from 2010 through 2012 and again in ’15 — and always dreamed of coming back again. Rich and Caitlin make their year-round home in the Boston area with their oldest son, Brice. When Hill signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox in early December, it meant he’d have more time with family this summer — and, as it turned out, the opportunity to be present in Boston during the final weeks of his father’s life.

Lloyd passed away on April 15. Rich’s next start was three days later.

Marathon Monday.

Hill took the loss against the Twins, giving up four earned runs over 4 2/3 innings, but his mere presence on the mound was a powerful tribute to the man whose character had helped him get there.

“It was a tough weekend,” Hill told reporters in the Red Sox clubhouse. “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. You show up and you’re a pro, and that’s something that . . . ”

His voice broke.

“ . . . I learned from my dad.”

Lloyd ran all of those marathons without a number, because preparation and competition mattered to him greatly but recognition did not. While he has left behind the people and places he impacted so greatly, Lloyd’s commitment to service endures. And in carrying forward the Field of Genes mission, he has an eternal teammate: Brooks, whom he always called his guardian angel.

“It’s a reminder of the time we have on this earth,” Rich Hill said, “to make our footprints in a positive way.”

For more information on the Field of Genes fund, or to make a donation, please visit https://because.massgeneral.org/campaign/field-of-genes/c219538

Jon Paul Morosi is an MLB Network broadcaster and baseball insider. He joined NBC Sports as a contributing writer in 2022 after covering baseball for MLB.com, FOXSports.com, the Detroit Free Press, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Morosi has covered 12 World Series and baseball stories in Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.