“Oh my God!!” Hillman immediately responded, hardly believing the grainy image of his 13-year-old self on the screen in front of him. “You have no idea what this means to me!! I somehow managed to lose my only copy of this photo years ago. … And here you are — a gift from heaven!”
Last Saturday, two days before his 64th birthday, Hillman received a replacement copy of a childhood keepsake he figured had been lost forever. What’s more, the girl in the photo — Barbara Angelino, now 62 — gave it to him in person at Nationals Park, where two former strangers, who were brought together by chance one afternoon 50 years ago and then went about their separate lives, reunited for the first time.
In 1969, Angelino and Hillman were members of Ted Williams’s Young Senators fan club. The 25-cent dues came with 11 general admission tickets to select games, a bumper sticker, a team schedule, a membership card and a photo of Williams, who was in his first season as the manager in Washington. Members of the club, which was co-sponsored by Sears Roebuck and the Washington Daily News, were also entered in a raffle to win tickets to the 1969 All-Star Game in D.C.
Angelino, whose maiden name is Buskirk, was climbing a fence in the yard of her Silver Spring home when her mother came outside to tell her a man from Sears was on the phone. Barbara was ecstatic to learn she was one of two winners of the tickets, but the 12-year-old tomboy with three older brothers resented the title that the contest’s organizers bestowed upon her.
“I was the honorary ‘princess,’ which appalled me,” Angelino said. “I was horrified.”
Angelino would’ve preferred “batboy,” the title given to Hillman, the raffle’s male winner. Hillman, who grew up about three miles from RFK in a Kenilworth housing project, said it was the first time he had ever won anything. He went to Senators games with his father, two brothers and sister, beginning when they played at Griffith Stadium, and he followed the team religiously.
“My mother would come into my bedroom because I had a little radio and would be listening to the Senators until midnight when they were out on the West Coast,” Hillman said. “I kept an individual scorecard with paper and pencil for every single game.”
A week before the All-Star Game, Angelino and Hillman were invited to RFK to meet the Senators and receive their tickets from Williams. Angelino went with her mother, Ellen Keyes, who was at least as excited as her daughter about the experience. As a teenager in 1939, Keyes, a lifelong Washingtonian and die-hard baseball fan, met Williams when the Red Sox rookie came to town to play the Senators. She wondered if the Hall of Famer would remember her. Hillman’s father couldn’t take off work, so Harold rode the bus to the stadium by himself. He wore a shirt and tie, a decision he would regret when he saw his fellow raffle winner.
“Barbara’s got her Washington Senators shirt on, and I’m standing there looking like I’m in the black church choir,” Hillman said.
Neither Hillman nor Angelino remembers what, if anything, they said to each other that day.
“We may have shaken hands, a little awkward thing,” Hillman said. “I’m pretty sure that was it, and then someone came out and ushered us onto the field."
The All-Star Game was rained out July 22 and rescheduled for the following day. Hillman attended the game, which featured Senators slugger Frank Howard and pitcher Darold Knowles, with his father. Angelino brought her older brother. The four of them sat together, but everyone was mostly focused on the game, and any interaction between Angelino and Hillman was minimal.
While Angelino’s love of baseball grew over the ensuing half century, Hillman’s gradually diminished as his career took him all across the country and, eventually, to the other side of the world. After seven years as an educator and clinical psychologist in the Air Force, Hillman left the military and entered the corporate world in 1993. A decade later, he was working in New York City when he accepted a job in New Zealand with a start-up called Fonterra, which is now one of the largest exporters of dairy products in the world.
Hillman figured he would return to the United States after three years, but he fell in love with New Zealand and has lived there since. He became a dual citizen in 2008, and while he lost touch with American sports, he always cherished his memories of the Senators and of meeting Williams, especially as he grew older and developed a greater appreciation of the Splendid Splinter’s stature in baseball history.
“People ask me about the things I miss most about the States, and the very first thing on my list is sitting in a baseball stadium, eating a hot dog and drinking a beer,” said Hillman, who now works as an executive coach.
Angelino’s mother collected as many copies of the photo in the Daily News as she could find, and she enjoyed recounting the story of that afternoon with her daughter until her death in 2012. Angelino would sometimes wonder what happened to the smiling boy standing next to her in the photo. Last May, she was going through plastic containers of photos and documents her mom had saved over the years with her cousin, Bonnie, who was visiting from North Carolina. Bonnie suggested they try to find Hillman on Facebook. It only took a couple of minutes.
“Even though his profile said he lived in New Zealand, to look at his picture, there was no mistaking that smile,” said Angelino, a software programming instructor who recently moved to Pennsylvania with her husband, Bob, but still commutes to D.C. once a week.
After Bonnie facilitated their reintroduction, Angelino and Hillman began emailing back and forth, once or twice a month. They traded stories of growing up in D.C. and shared details about their lives since their two brief encounters over the span of one week 50 years ago. Angelino told Hillman how she wrote to the Nationals the season after baseball returned to D.C. and, still annoyed by the “princess” moniker, asked if she could be a batboy for a day. Instead, the team invited her to throw the ceremonial first pitch before the team’s final game at RFK.
Hillman told Angelino he traveled back to the United States at least once a year to visit family, including his two daughters and two grandsons in California, and his two brothers and sister in the D.C. area. After initially kicking around the idea of making a stop in Pennsylvania during his next U.S. trip, Hillman and Angelino decided a 50-year reunion at Nationals Park in July would be more fun.
About an hour before last Saturday’s matinee, Hillman was standing at the media and suites entrance to the ballpark with Alex, his friend and business partner from New Zealand, and Alvin, his older brother. Minutes later, Angelino passed through security with her husband. She was wearing a 50-year-old Senators giveaway T-shirt and smiling as wide as she was when the two kids met Williams in 1969.
“How hilarious is this?” Hillman said after the two shared a warm embrace.
“It was unexpectedly more emotional than I thought it would be,” Angelino said. “It was almost like going back to my childhood again. I was able to relive a little bit of history and go back and have all those memories. I just wish my mom could be here, because she would’ve been beside herself."
When the Nationals got word of the planned reunion a couple of months ago, they gave Angelino and Hillman four VIP tickets in the Delta Club behind home plate and arranged for them to go on the field before the game. While the grounds crew prepared the infield, Angelino and Hillman chatted and posed for photos near the seats where they would be featured on the scoreboard after the first inning. Nationals Manager Dave Martinez emerged from the dugout and, while he didn’t come bearing All-Star Game tickets, he spent a couple of minutes asking the two about their Facebook-enabled reunion.
“I rank this as one of the top five experiences of my life,” said Hillman, who enjoyed two hot dogs and two beers during the game, his first at Nationals Park. “I haven’t quite sorted through what got bumped to six, but seriously, this is awesome."
Angelino and Hillman stayed until the final out of the Dodgers’ 9-3 win, which was, incidentally, the same score of the 1969 All-Star Game. Afterward, Angelino gave Hillman a copy of the photo he had lost years ago to take back with him to New Zealand. They agreed to keep in touch and plan to go to another game when Hillman visits next summer.
“It’s a lifelong friendship now,” Angelino said.
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