Former Wolverine and current Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Rich Hill is on cloud nine these days.
“To go to a major league field every day and play on the best field in the country and play in front of packed stadiums, especially being a Chicago Cub, where everywhere we go we have a huge following of loyal fans, it’s tough to describe.”
“It is surreal. I like to go every day when I come into Wrigley and just kind of go into the stands and look out – sit in one of those seats and kind of get the feeling of what its like to sit on the other side, not in the dugout. It’s real special.”
But the road to Chicago’s North Side from his hometown of Boston had a few bumps. Hill went 7-16 with a 5.54 ERA for the Maize and Blue from 2000-2002. The Wolverines didn’t fair too well either in that span, going 69-92-1. But he learned how to pitch and compete in Ann Arbor.
“The stuff was there, the talent was there, just how to develop it now and kind of hone it in and to continue to fine tune everything,” Hill said. “It was more trying to get to the point where I was consistently throwing strikes.”
“Playing at Michigan, playing teams like Michigan State and Ohio State, coming in from out of state and coming to Michigan, I didn’t really know too much. I knew they were great rivalries but I didn’t really know it was all about playing in those rivalries because I had never been to games like that. It’s what it’s all about. Being part of the tradition there at Michigan, it was just a lot of fun.”
With more confidence on the mound after three years as a Wolverine, Hill was taken by the Cubs in the 4th round of the 2002 MLB Draft.
But Hill still had a lot of time before finally experiencing the glory of the majors. He would pitch for six Cubs minor league affiliates. He went from Boise (Idaho) to Lansing, back to Boise, to Daytona (Fla.), to Peoria (Ill.), to West Tennessee, and then AAA Iowa. Finally, on June 15, 2005, Hill made his major league debut, giving up two runs in one inning in a 15-5 Cubs loss. Since that rough debut, Hill has bounced back and become one of the Cubs most dangerous pitchers.
The 27-year-old, who features a nasty curveball and a fastball in the low-90s, has a 6-6 record with a 3.59 ERA this year.
Still, he knows he can’t keep playing forever. Hill doesn’t have his college degree, but plans to return for some kind of communications degree in order to stay around baseball via radio or television.
Life as a student-athlete, although not a walk in the park for Hill, proved to be a great stepping-stone to life as a major leaguer.
“I know the times that I was there we didn’t have great records or winning teams but we did have a lot of fun,” Hill said. “And the guys that (I got) to know (and got) to have some really great friendships that continue on today, which I think that’s the most memorable thing to me . just the people that I met there and still know today and continue with those relationships”