Thursday, April 26, 2007
The Last Canadian Still Standing
The first day I ever laid my eyes on him, Shawn Hill completed a shutout through seven solid innings against The Philadelphia Phillies. The Date was Sunday, June 11th, 2006. The African Queen and I remember that day well. Major League Baseball, then the Owners of Our Washington Nationals invited each and every season ticket holder on the turf at RFK Stadium for a Post Game Picnic. Most every Nats Player showed up, to sign autographs--Shawn Hill included.
Sitting on top of the first base dugout, signing autographs, most fans did not really know who was Number 41. In all honesty, for popularity, Shawn was low on totem pole. So, I approached him, thanked him for his outstanding effort that day, mentioning how much I enjoyed his poise on the pitching rubber. Looking up from signing my baseball, Shawn Hill appreciated the comments, extended his right hand, shook mine firmly--thanking me for noticing. Briefly, we chatted, nothing too substantial, but I enjoyed my moment with him. Not one single other Fan had spoken ONE WORD TO HIM. NOT ONE. Most everybody just wanting an autograph, while moving through to the next player. That very moment, Shawn Hill became special to me. Down to earth, head screwed on correctly. Someone new to cheer for.
Never did I run into him again, until this past February when Shawn Hill was kind enough to give me 15 minutes of his time during Spring Training to discuss his future in baseball with me. But, just like last June, Hill was kind, considerate, WANTING to speak baseball with me. It really was an enjoyable two way conversation. He liked my questions and I peaked his interest. Hill laughed mightily, surprised when I told him he is THE BEST BUNTING PITCHER on Our Nationals. "You better believe it," I reaffirmed. My followup comment NOT GOING UNNOTICED in The Nationals Clubhouse. Heads rising, players looking. All resulting in one of my favorite posts from Viera. Injuries have always curtailed this Ontario, Canada Native throughout his young professional career. Yet, Shawn told me that late February Day he was healthy, in shape, and ready to prove he belongs as a Starter In The Major Leagues. More than anyone else in Spring Camp, Shawn well knew this was HIS OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A NAME FOR HIMSELF.
More and more throughout the six weeks of Spring Training, it became apparent that Hill WAS OUR BEST STARTER--UNQUESTIONABLY. And, when I saw him once again, On Opening Day, at The Main Gate to RFK Stadium, handing out Curly "W" Caps, I was proud when he recognized me right away, remembering my name, telling me "I hope I don't disappoint your faith in me." Replying, I stated:"I am happy to see you make it here (THE MAJORS), healthy and ready to go. Just do your best, that's all I ask." We shook hands strongly, snapped a quick photo (yeah I know its not my usual best-but my point is more important than the picture quality) and parted ways. As I said to The African Queen as we walked on to our seats in Section 320--"Shawn Hill is a decent young man. I really hope he pulls it all together. He's SO DESERVING."
No doubt, Shawn Hill has yet to falter in 2007. And, today, he pitched his FINEST GAME as a Major Leaguer. Shutting down the Philadelphia Phillies, yet again, through eight plus innings. Staying ahead in the count, his sinker was fabulous and unlike most pitchers in the game today, Number 41 lets the batter hit the ball. Why try to strike everyone out, when more times than not, a hitter will get himself out. When the great majority of batters only get a hit less than three out of 10 plate appearances, pinpoint control will succeed most every time out. Shawn Hill knows how to pitch. He pitches with confidence and a game plan. A plan which he sticks to. The very last True Canadian to ever play for The Montreal Expos, is Our ACE. The man can play. And, I am very proud of him.
Shawn Hill also pitched today with the lead. Facing Up Against Phillies Young Phenom, Cole Hamels, Our Washington Nationals were able to put some runs on the board against one of the game's finest young lefthanders. This, after Cole struck out 15 batters in his last game appearance. A solo Home Run to right by Dimitri Young in the 4th. A two run bloop single to left scoring Ronnie Belliard and Ryan Zimmerman in the sixth by Ryan Church. And, finally a bases loaded walk to Brian Schneider scored Austin Kearns in the same frame putting Washington up 4-0.
Really, that was all Hill needed today. For the most part, Shawn was dominant. Our Nationals played solid defense behind him. He did falter a little late, giving up a Homer to The HOT HITTING Aaron Roward (Why in the world would Philadelphia be shopping this guy, he's a terrific all around performer), but Our Manager, Manny Acta knew this was Shawn's Game to go the distance and rightly sent him out for the 9th in an attempt for the Complete Game.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. When Shane Victorino walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth, Manny had to take him out. There's NO WAY Acta lets Shawn Hill tire late and destroy a wonderful outing. On trotted "The Chief Cardiologist" to make it interesting as always. First getting Chase Utley, but not before Utley sent a Chad pitch to the wall and fence in Dead Centerfield at Citizens Bank Park. Ryan Church retrieving the ball, but not before a few hearts fell right into a few Nats Fans stomachs. Then, giving up a double to Ryan Howard, moving Victorino to third and a Sacrifice Fly to score Shane by Pat Burrell, also at the wall, this time in right, hauled in by Austin Kearns, making the score 4-2 Nats.
But, Chad was not to be denied today. Wes Helms was next. And, Cordero fired away. Reaching 91 Miles per hour on his fastball, "The Chief" would strike out Helms swinging to end the game, preserving Shawn Hill's much deserved win and releasing some serious tension for Cordero. Chad Cordero made it interesting, as always, but like more times than not, Number 32 was successful. Save Number 2 for Our Closer. Curly "W" number 7 for Our Washington Nationals.
On the heels of last night's terrible 9-3 lost to these same Phillies, Our Washington Nationals played a crisp, clean game. Pride was on the line today. To their great credit, Our Team played their hearts out. The Ups and Downs of Baseball, that I love so much. Playing most everyday for six months makes the game so much more special than any other sport. Whether today's win is a Harbinger of things to come, or a detour in the road of more frustration to follow (I would imagine a little of both), we shall not know for some time.
As for Today--April 26th, 2007, Our Washington Nationals finally confirmed we really do have, AT LEAST ONE Very Good Major League Caliber Starting Pitcher. Shawn Hill is here to stay.
Hope is on the horizon. What a nice feeling, after the depression of last night.
Tonight's In Game Photos--(AP) H. Rumph, Jr.