ST. PETERSBURG — Rich Hill is ready for all the jokes that come with his relative old age.
Like last week when the 41-year-old lefty hopped a ride on the Rays’ coaches and staff bus to the stadium in Texas rather than wait for the next player bus. Manager Kevin Cash, as he likes to do with most players, started giving him grief; Hill played along by feigning that he couldn’t hear Cash.
Ask about other such taunts, and Hill laughs about having his AARP card in his wallet.
“He’s pretty quick-witted about it,” Cash said. “For an old guy.”
There’s been no joking about how Hill has pitched. After a 4 2/3 inning, four-run no-decision Saturday against the Orioles, he is 5-2, 3.38 overall. All that while coming off an American League Pitcher of the Month award for a remarkable 3-1, 0.78 performance in May.
Hill’s remarkable performance is one for the ages, and one of several across sports by the aged.
Tom Brady, whom Hill overlapped with at Michigan, won a Super Bowl for the Bucs — as you may have heard — at age 43, the oldest player to earn a ring. Phil Mickelson last month finished first in the PGA Championship at 50, the oldest winner of a major. Helio Castroneves drove to the Indianapolis 500 title at 46.
“Keep going! I mean, that’s it,” Hill said. “I would love to talk to Tom and see how he’s changed with (time) — as you get older, things change. You have different routines. Your body’s going through changes. So it’s a very interesting time. And I know a lot of people can relate to that because, as they say, time is undefeated. I mean, I don’t want to get too much into the details, but you’ve got to get up in the morning earlier.”
Growing up and still living in the Boston area, Hill is a big Brady fan and hopes they can get together to compare notes. He also appreciates what other gentlemen of a certain age have done.
“You look at Phil (Mickelson) and the way he’s changed his career and kind of righted the ship or whatever,” Hill said. “I love to see it, and I think a lot of people do, too. …
“I love the youth movement (in baseball). I love the guys coming in. But I know that there’s a lot of guys that can contribute and not only just contribute, but in a big way. And they bring a lot of experience and knowledge to clubs that can’t be really taught. And that’s where I think older players come in for a high value.”
Especially Hill, whose work ethic and passion for the game have made him a great role model and mentor with the Rays, his 10th big-league team in a 20-year pro career.
“It’s great for all of our guys, and I’m very confident it rubs off,” said Cash, who caught Hill with the Red Sox in 2010, coached him in Cleveland in 2013 and manages him now. “There’s not a player in here that that doesn’t want to pitch or play major-league baseball at his age.
“They’re getting to watch him and how he goes about (his work) in between starts. And to his credit, he is always in the weight room, he’s always running, he’s always on top of his cardio, his bike. So it makes a lot of sense as to why he gets on the mound and he’s able to do what he does.”
Cash, who turned 43 in December (and last played in 2011), has a definite appreciation for what Hill — the oldest active pitcher and second oldest player (behind Albert Pujols) — has been doing.
As does pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who turns 44 in September (and last played in 2009), raving about Hill’s tireless work during winter, spring and in-season sessions, his drive to win, creativity on the mound (such as deciding on the fly in his last start to mix in change-ups for the first time this season), intensity on the mound and pretty much everything else he does.
“He has a really, really good idea what it is he’s trying to accomplish,” Snyder said.
Teammates are also in awe of how good — and old — Hill is.
Consider that pitcher Luis Patino, up from Triple-A earlier this season, was born in October 1999, when Hill was in college — and is 20 years younger. That rookie lefty Shane McClanahan, at 24, is 17 years Hill’s junior. “The way he goes about his business is something a lot of guys really want to emulate,” McClanahan said.
Even catcher Mike Zunino, 30 and playing his ninth year in the majors, marvels that Hill — who started his pro career in 2002 and reached the majors in 2005 — is nearly 12 years older than him.
“I remember facing him; Heck, I probably remember watching him on TV,” Zunino said. “It just speaks about how he takes care of himself, and his passion for the game. You truly have to love what you do to be able to do it for that long.”
And still be doing it.
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