New England Roots

New England Roots: Rich Hill on pickup games in Milton, the Park League & the fandom that never leaves

(Hanna Foslien/Getty Images)

Rich Hill, 40, has had a 16-year career in Major League Baseball, having pitched for nine different teams, including the Red Sox -- twice. A native of Milton, Hill shares his remembrances about growing up in greater Boston in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Boston Sports Journal: Let's start with your memories about playing sports as a kid. Did you play multiple sports growing up?

Rich Hill: I did. Everything was up to 11 was soccer, basketball and baseball. And then I would say after that, my teen years, it became basketball and baseball. Then at 14, I picked up golf. I always wanted to play football. My dad had played and he knew how violent a sport it was. Still, it was more geared to baseball (for me). My brothers played and my sister played basketball and my other brother was a gymnast. I really grew up with the Park League, being the batboy for my brothers' team, and getting that full experience. That was my introduction to the next level. Those guys were in D-1 programs. My dad would take me to my brothers' game and we would all sit down and watch. That was kind of my introduction to the game.

BSJ: What do you remember about playing as a young boy?

RH: There was a guy in the area, Walter Sgroi, and he was from Watertown. He would come to Cunningham Park (in Milton). We would use trashcan lids as bases. He'd bring extra gloves and bats and kids would go and learn how to play the game in the summer. Or we'd get together and go and play in one of the Little League fields and play Home Run Derby. Or we'd play pickup games. We'd do that with basketball, baseball, touch football, which turn into tackle and some fights. We were in the era of Sega Genesis, but were outside all the time. Street hockey was huge, too, in the fall right into the winter.

BSJ: You were, at the time, only the fourth kid to have played on the varsity baseball team at Milton High as a freshman. What was that experience like?

RH: I remember getting called up to the varsity. I got a couple innings in and some at-bats. I just remember being around the seniors and feeling that it was different. The level of urgency was there. Performing mattered. It wasn't just to have fun. I remember being on the (high school) basketball team. I wasn't as big and I was getting my butt kicked. One of my basketball teammates and I were going one weekend to a Northeastern baseball camp. We had a Sunday morning (basketball) practice and we told our coach that we wouldn't be at practice because we were invited to this Northeastern showcase. He was like, 'Alright, turn in your uniforms tomorrow; you're off the team.' We were like, 'Absolutely not. We've been invited to a Division 1 camp.' That's how much things have changed over the years. That was my junior year and I was just starting to focus on baseball.

BSJ: The era of playing multiple sports seems to have come to an end. Is that a bad thing?

RH: I think so. I could go on all day about that. I think today, (youth sports) have become too serious. They treat it like it's the pros.

BSJ: When did you start dreaming about a pro baseball career?