He started his Red Sox (and major league) career with a bit of a hitting streak. He even earned the nickname “Hit-a-Day Shea” for a while there. I was fortunate enough to see him contribute to that streak with a single in his last at-bat during the 2001 home opener.
The second highlight I’ve already mentioned when I Scored his game-winning three run home run off Mariano Rivera on April 13, 2002.
But, the thing he may be remembered most for is being traded for Byung-Hyun Kim in 2003. This trade impacted the team in many significant ways. It ended the “closer by committee” concept that was never given the fair chance it deserved. It also started the BK Kim era in Boston. It was a rocky tenure for Kim that included flipping the bird to the Fenway fans. But, most important, the trade opened up some playing time for both Bill Mueller, and David Ortiz. Mueller would win the batting title, and Ortiz would club 31 home runs leading the Sox into the playoffs. Both would, of course, play key roles in the 2004 world championship. The trade of Hillenbrand really represented the shift of focus to those two key players.
So, as much as anyone not in a Sox uniform during the 2004 season, Shea Hillenbrand was an important part of the championship. For that, we need to wish him a happy birthday.
Happy 36th Birthday Shea Hillenbrand!