11/12/08 11:08 AM EST
Hill has head on straight this offseason
Jays infielder rehabbing from post-concussion syndrome
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Now living in Florida, where he's only a short drive from Toronto's spring headquarters, Hill has been enjoying life back in the weight room and plans on hitting baseballs off a tee as soon as later this week. The head injury that ended his season in May is no longer presenting any issues, giving Hill an optimistic outlook for 2009.
"I've played baseball my whole life, so this is the longest break I've ever had," Hill said in a phone interview on Tuesday night. "If anything, I'm even more excited to get back on the field now than ever, just because I have missed an extended period of time.
"I don't see any reason why I wouldn't be ready for Spring Training."
That's great news for the Blue Jays, who were without Hill for the final four months of the 2008 season. What was originally described as a "minor concussion" turned into a season-long battle for Hill, leading to meetings with multiple neurologists in light of the second baseman's persistent symptoms.
As of right now, Hill doesn't have any more appointments on his schedule -- a sure sign of how well he's progressed in the months since his injury. At the end of September, Hill met with a concussion specialist in Toronto and was given the go-ahead to treat his offseason the same as any other.
That's precisely what Hill has been doing.
"He gave me the clearance," Hill said. "He said, 'Hey, around November, when you usually get going, go ahead and start your normal workouts -- just keep it going from there and take it gradual.'
"It's just nice to be back in the weight room. It's great to be back in there, actually."
For now, Hill has been sticking to riding the stationary bike and mixing in some light weight training. He said that he won't really get deep into his heavier strengthening program or his offseason agility workouts until January, but that's the schedule he's followed in previous seasons.
The workouts are all well and good, but Hill is really looking forward to hitting again.
"We're just going to start hitting off the tee in the next week or so, just because I want to," Hill said with a slight laugh. "It doesn't matter when I start -- I just miss swinging a bat. I'll hit a few balls off a tee for now."
As if the four months Hill was sidelined during the season weren't torture enough, the offseason has provided him with even more time to go over what happened this year. On May 29, Hill was struck on the side of the head during an on-field collision with former Jays shortstop David Eckstein.
Hill thought he'd be back in the lineup after a few days. Before he knew it, a few days turned into a few weeks, and weeks turned into months. Even in September, when the season was nearing a close, Hill wasn't ready to admit defeat. But the Blue Jays took every precaution along the way and told him to just prepare for 2009.
The whole experience still seems surreal for Hill.
"Where do I start?" Hill said with a laugh. "You could start with the couple different stages I went through personally, mentally. First of all, I just couldn't believe that it was still going on for the first couple months, really -- that I was still getting dizzy.
"I was getting really angry with myself and just with everything, because it didn't make sense and no one had answers. I wanted more answers, because it just didn't register that you get bumped on the head and you're still getting dizzy three months down the road.
"That part was the hardest for me."
Hill, who turns 27 years old in March, finished the season hitting .263 with two home runs and 20 RBIs in the 55 games he played. In 2007, Hill hit .291 with 17 homers, 47 doubles and 78 RBIs in 160 games for the Jays, who signed him to a four-year extension worth $12 million that includes club options that could keep him in the fold through 2014.
Looking back on what happened, Hill said he's glad general manager J.P. Ricciardi and Toronto's medical staff made sure he took things slow. Hill said that, if the Blue Jays had told him to try to return to the field quickly, he would've willingly pushed himself in an effort to return to the lineup.
It was more important to make sure Hill didn't jeopardize his career.
"Who knows what would've happened then?" Hill said. "I realize that a lot of people have gone through it and they're paying attention to these head injuries a lot more now than they did in the past. So now, when I look back on it, I thank J.P. and those guys really for not trying to push me to get back in there, because I would've happily done that."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.