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How Delayed Gratification Paid off for Big League Pitcher Rich Hill

“Delayed gratification” is “patience” by any other name.

But in Rich Hill’s life, “delayed gratification” had to be a philosophy to keep pushing forward in a left-handed pitching career derailed relatively early.

A team would always give Hill another chance through Tommy John elbow surgery and labrum (shoulder) surgery, a conversion to the bullpen as a side-arming pitcher, and even a brief farming out to independent-league baseball.

Being prepared, staying positive and never giving up on a goal of starting is how Boston native Hill survived the better part of a decade until he finally clicked with the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. The end result was a three-year contract at age 37 with the Dodgers and a chance to spin many more of his specialty curveballs.

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“We’re in this for the long haul,” Hill said. “We have to understand in baseball that it doesn’t happen overnight.

Hill was everything a team could want in a homegrown left-handed starter when the University of Michigan product came up to the Chicago Cubs to stay in 2006. In his first full season in 2007, he was 11-8, averaging nearly a strikeout an inning with that curve. Hill made a playoff start. But injuries and control problems in 2008, aggravating then-manager Lou Piniella, quickly spun him out of the Cubs organization.

Hill would go on to serve three different stints with his hometown Red Sox along with spots on the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and Los Angeles Angels. He also spent time in the St. Louis Cardinals’ and Washington Nationals’ farm systems. And he even made two starts in 2015 with an independent team on Long Island before the Athletics gave him a chance to be a full-time starter again.

Yet the concept of “delayed gratification,” where Hill would out-work and out-think the passage of time and teams, paid off.

“So you’ve got to have the delayed gratification, that’s what it is,” Hill said.

Hill shared the example of going to the gym on the first day of the offseason.

“That is basically the lowest point strength-wise that I’ll be for the year because I have taken all my deposits out of the bank for the season and left everything on the field,” he said.

Pitchers' Fielding Practice - Read It Now

“But when I get into the gym, starting whatever day it is — let’s just say it’s Nov. 1, right after the World Series — you get into the gym and you’re just putting one pebble in the glass every single day. One at a time, one at a time. And at the end of the offseason, the thing’s full.

“People want to go to the gym and they say, ‘Well I want to lose weight, I want to get stronger, I want to do this.’ But you have to put the work in. Nobody wants to do the work.

“I think experience teaches everybody,” Hill continued. “It’s definitely taught me, you know, more about delayed gratification.

Hill admits that it’s natural to want instant success. And he said he does not have to be singular in his “delay” process. His example can apply to many.

“Anybody who does anything of substance, if you want to continue to do something great, you have to stick with it. It just doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “Look at me — (succeeding) a decade later. If you’re passionate about it and bring a certain amount of intensity on a daily basis, things will work out. And you have a love for whatever you do.

“As much as you inevitably prepare, you’re going to have disappointments. It’s staying in a good routine and persevering through those tough times. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You’re not the first and you’re not the last to fail.”

From GameChanger and George Castle.

Baseball, Baseball Features, Baseball Player Development

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