Hill ready to put concussion behind him
Second baseman not interested in dwelling on last year's injury
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Aaron Hill leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and let out a brief sigh. The Blue Jays second baseman then smiled, knowing all too well what was coming -- the same conversation he's been having for months.
Everyone wants to know how Hill is feeling, and he's tired of reassuring them that he's fine.
Hill is doing all he can to show precisely that in these early stages of Spring Training -- fielding grounders, taking hacks in the cage and putting in his time in the weight room. Yes, the concussion he suffered last season was serious -- even seeming career-threatening at times. But Hill was cleared by neurologists, doctors and trainers to resume his usual baseball routine months ago.
Now, sitting in front of his locker at the Bobby Mattick Training Center, Hill is once again begging for everyone to understand that he's healthy. The headaches, sleepless nights and dizzy spells are gone. Hill is done revisiting the events of the past year, and he's ready to prove once and for all that Toronto doesn't have to worry about him anymore.
"Everything is normal," Hill said. "That's why I say I can't wait for the first collision, so I can just get up and be like, 'See?' It just seems like everyone still has a question mark about if I've still got it or, 'Is he telling the truth?' So I just can't wait to just go out and play. I'm so tired of talking about it. It's in the past."
It's hard to blame anyone for bringing the concussion up, though.
Hill is an important part of Toronto's lineup and one of the league's top defenders at his position, and the Blue Jays only had him for 55 games last season. On May 29, Hill and former shortstop David Eckstein sprinted into shallow center field to track down a fly ball in Oakland. Hill was struck on the side of the head by Eckstein's right elbow, sending the second baseman tumbling to the grass.
The initial tests determined that Hill's concussion wasn't serious and he was upbeat after the game, expressing confidence that he'd be back on the field soon. That optimism began to disappear after traveling with the team to Anaheim later that night, when Hill went out to dinner with his wife, mother-in-law and agent.
Hill doesn't remember the details, but he's been told that he stopped talking for about half a minute before turning pale and fainting. He was rushed to the emergency room that night.
"That's when everything started," Hill said. "That's when all the symptoms came, for some reason. No one really had an answer for why it was then and not on the field."
Hill, who turns 27 in March, was placed on the disabled list, and he spent the rest of the season searching for answers.
|"It just seems like everyone still has a question mark about if I've still got it or, 'Is he telling the truth?' So I just can't wait to just go out and play. I'm so tired of talking about it. It's in the past."|
|-- Jays second baseman Aaron Hill|
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays' offense was enduring one of its worst showings in years. While Joe Inglett and Marco Scutaro played admirably in his place, Hill's teammates won't deny that the lineup was definitely hurting without him.
"Him going down, we lost a lot of key at-bats," Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay said. "When I've stunk it up, he's come up behind me and picked me up hundreds of times."
It was hard for Hill not to beat himself up over what was happening. He wanted nothing more to be on the field and in the batting order. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said he would often remind the second baseman not to worry about a situation he couldn't control. The last thing Toronto wanted was for Hill to rush himself back, risking a serious setback.
"It was pretty frustrating for him," Gaston said. "As soon as he thought he was starting to feel better, he would go back the other way. If you know Aaron Hill at all, he felt like he was letting his teammates down. We did a lot of talking to him about, 'No, you're not doing that.'"
Hill also struggled to find the best place to deal with his rehabilitation.
When he was with the club in Toronto, it was hard to be around his teammates. When he tried moving his workouts to Florida, Hill desperately wanted to be back around the guys. It was hard for him to stay in one place for long without wanting to be somewhere else.
"Let me tell you, being on the DL is the absolute worst," he said. "Everybody will tell you that -- I'm sure other guys have told you that before. But it's just ... you feel so lonely. You feel like you're not a part of the team. You just feel helpless. You can't do anything. You're worthless. That's the worst part, just not being able to be out there with the guys and be able to help out.
"I didn't know what to do. That's why it was so hard. One, being out was a first for me. Two, I didn't know which way to go. I knew the best thing for me was to be away, but being away was hard, too."
The other problem with being around his teammates was Hill didn't always appear to be hurting. When the team was suffering, Hill felt like people were looking at him and wondering if he was really injured.
"I wish I would've had crutches or something," Hill said with a laugh. "When you're walking around fine, you're smiling, you're joking and it's, 'He looks fine. Why can't he play?' The mental side of it's tough, too, because it was tough for me to be around some of the guys, because I don't want them to look at me and say, 'Well, he looks fine.'"
Hill might have looked fine, but he was confronted with a very real problem -- one that didn't come with a clear timetable for recovery. For months, no one seemed to know how long it would take for Hill to fully regroup from the collision, and he tried not to think about the uncertainty being conveyed by the specialists he consulted.
"The scary part was when the symptoms and everything were still there," Hill said. "They were saying, 'Look, you're describing every one of our patients. Some guys get better in two weeks. Some guys a couple months. Some guys a couple years. Some people have had it for 10 or 15 years, so I can't give you a timeline.'
"I didn't want to know about that side of it."
All Hill could do was wait.
After the season ended, Hill retreated to his home in Palm Harbor, Fla., which isn't far from Toronto's Minor League complex in Dunedin. He spent the winter working with the team's training staff and took things slow. By December, Hill finally began adding sprints and heavier lifting to his daily workout routine.
Hill doesn't recall the specific day he finally felt 100 percent again, because he made sure to stick with a very gradual rehab program. What he does know is that the symptoms he dealt with last season are gone, and he's looking forward to being the player that he's been in the past for the Jays.
In 2007, Hill's last full season for Toronto, he hit at a .291 clip and established career bests with 17 home runs, 47 doubles and 78 RBIs in 160 games. Last April, Toronto inked him to a four-year extension that includes team options that could potentially keep him in the fold through 2014.
The Jays believe having a healthy Hill can only benefit the club in the long run.
"This kid's got a chance to be a leader on this ballclub," Gaston said. "He can't do anything but help us -- that's for sure."
That's what Hill is prepared to do. And that's what he wants people to focus on.
"It's in the past," Hill said. "That's how I've always lived. Whatever is in the past, hey, forget about it. Move on. You work toward the future. It'll be fun to get out there and get a full season under my belt again."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.