It may be hard to believe no matter how much it’s repeated, but still: for the first time since 2010, Clayton Kershaw will not be the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers. Many, myself included, advocated for Walker Buehler to get it instead as a passing of the torch for his tenure as the team’s next ace. But Dave Roberts has made it clear he won’t be getting the call either.
We all know the rotation is awash in options to kick the season off. The resurgent Julio Urias, the hungry Ross Stripling, the sometimes overlooked but crucial Hyun-Jin Ryu, a Kenta Maeda eager to prove he’s a starter and not a reliever…the list goes on.
In my mind, there’s only one clear option: Rich Hill. Dick Mountain, our sidearm, leg-kicking, bearded god with the greatest jersey in franchise history.
Who's YOUR opening day starter?
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) March 20, 2019
Dodgers Twitter agrees.
On a practical level, it makes sense given his consistently excellent pitching since 2016, which would be even better were it not for those damn blisters.
But that’s not the only reason Hill should get the ball on Opening Day. There are a bevy of sentimental factors at play. Most prominent is the fact that this is the last year of his contract, and he just turned 39. Lest he find a second wind akin to the mighty Bartolo Colon, it’s likely he’ll retire at season’s end. It would also be another affirming moment for a man who has risen above countless lows, from pissing in a bucket while playing for the Long Island Ducks to losing an infant son.
He should also get it because he represents the integrity, the tenacity, and the brilliance in the face of adversity the team needs to win it all. He runs the bases like Forrest Gump, and splays himself at home plate like a fallen soldier, even when he doesn’t need to. He upheld the team’s tradition of standing up to bigotry when he ingeniously stepped off the mound to let fans boo Yuli Gurriel to their heart’s content.
He chucked Gatorade in the bullpen when yanked from that same game, frustrated he had put the bullpen in a tough situation (that they luckily got out of). He cares for winning, and winning right, in a way few players exhibit.
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Even amidst his consistently brilliant play, Hill has been at the center of some of the team’s toughest moments these past three years. He was pulled from a perfect game in 2016, and had another one spoiled in 2017 by a pathetic offensive showing. Some believe he was pulled too early in game two of the 2017 World Series. And then there’s the coup de grace: game four of the 2018 World Series. You know the script by now, and don’t need to read it again.
And that’s precisely why he should get it. It’s an immediate sequel to that infamous breakdown in communication, a chance to start fresh. Hill has had so many great moments yanked away from him unfairly. So why not give him this one?
All told, Dick Mountain IS Dodger Baseball of the 2010s, in all of its glory, truculence, adversity, and limitless possibility. 2019 is an especially crucial year, with 30 years of championship futility and a trying offseason to purge. After last year’s mopey, inconsistent team barely eked out a pennant, this year needs to see our boys play with fire and an understanding that a trophy won’t be handed to them.
No one knows how to do that like Richard Joseph Hill. The man has transcended challenges the likes most of us will never know. Let him set the tone for 2019.