Thursday, August 20, 2009

One Hill of a Player: Aaron Hill Returns from Concussion

The Toronto Blue Jays season has witnessed its share of highs and lows this year, with trade rumours swirling around Roy Halladay and a promising start to the season that has quickly faded into a “wait until next year” mode. After starting the year firing on all cylinders, except for Vernon Wells and the recently departed Alex Rios, the Jays were the talk of the town and by May 18, they sported a 27-14 win/loss record. Then the slide began and by August 19, they were 19.5 games out of first in the American League East division with a 55-63 record.

Compounding the problem in Toronto this season is the inability to win the close games. The team is 5-11 in extra inning games and 14-22 in one-run games. Fans are calling for a change at the top and with a new team President expected this fall, many wonder if this is the last season J.P. Ricciardi will be at the helm as General Manager. However, one of the bright spots in a season gone wrong is the play of second baseman Aaron Hill.

The Visalia California native made his Toronto debut on May 20, 2005 after being selected 13th overall in the first round of the 2003 draft. The former Louisiana State University Tiger has become a defensive gem at second base and this year, he is having a career year at the plate.
While many expected Hill to be a regular contributor after he hit 17 home runs and had 78 RBI’s in 2007, his career took a back seat to his health after suffering a concussion in 2008.

Hill played in 55 games for the Jays in 2008 before a collision with teammate David Eckstein on May 29 sent him to the 15-day disabled list. Moved to the 60-day DL after he continued to experience what he described as a “heavy head and fatigue” after light workouts, he spent the rest of the year at home, wondering if his career would ever resume.

What a difference a year can make, as Hill returned to the team this spring, he has picked up where he left off in 2007 and has already set career highs in home runs and RBI’s. Hill finds himself at the top of the American League in total bases with 256, his 80 RBI’s ranks seventh in the league and his 28 home runs is tied for third with Minnesota Twins first baseman and 2006 MVP, Justin Morneau. With 44 games remaining this season, Hill should reach the 30 home run - 100 RBI plateau and continue to be the anchor of the Jays infield.

The return from his concussion was never a certainty. Although baseball does not have the contact that football and hockey players thrive on, a brain injury is extremely serious and can have life-altering effects. The possibility of secondary concussions looms large and taking the necessary time to heal becomes paramount, as research conducted by the Sports Legacy Institute has revealed. Hill need only look at former teammate, Cory Koskie to witness how things could have been very different.

Koskie was a Jay for only one season, playing 94 games with Toronto at third base in Hill’s rookie year. In 2006, while a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, he suffered a concussion while diving awkwardly for a pop fly. The Canadian born Koskie attempted a comeback this spring with the Chicago Cubs, only to feel his symptoms return in a Spring Training game. At 35 years of age, with a young family, he wisely made the decision to retire from baseball and avoid risking his long-term health.

For the 27-year-old Hill, he is symptom free and swinging one of the hottest bats in baseball this season. In July, he found himself in the starting line-up at the all-star game, beside some of the greatest names in the game. Although he has returned to the game he loves, Hill does not take his on-field success for granted, telling the Canadian Press at the all-star game, “I’m just grateful to be back in a uniform and be successful.”

As Jays fans look ahead to next year, they can boast about their second baseman and know that with his health issues behind him, Aaron Hill will help lead the way back to the top of the division. Have a great sports day everyone.

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