09/01/08 5:21 PM ET
Hill's will never severed
Catcher recalled 11 months after almost losing three fingers
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Hill was told he'd never play again after he severed three of his fingers and his thumb during a freak accident on Oct. 16. On Monday, he was one of the players called up from the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa team.
"I've been lucky to be able to even play," said Hill, who was the Iowa team's starting catcher. "To be back here is a dream come true in itself. I never had a doubt I'd play again, but I didn't know what limitations I'd have with my hand and what I'd be allowed to do."
The accident happened on what began as a normal offseason day at Hill's Wichita, Kans., home. He was using a table saw to build a window frame, something he'd done millions of times. His father is a master carpenter, and Hill has dreamed of being an architect. He's designed floor plans, homes.
But when he made a second pass, the saw got stuck on a knot in the wood and it severed all but the index finger on his right hand, and that one suffered minor damage.
"It cut my thumb off first," Hill said Monday. "It went through all the muscles of my thumb. It cut all four fingers and all four ligaments."
He was rushed to the emergency room, but if it wasn't for a persistent father-in-law, Hill would only have two fingers on his right hand. A specialist who has connections with the Cubs' hand expert was contacted, and they were able to re-attach the fingers.
"He was proud to be able to do what he did with the mess that he got," Hill said.
He went to the emergency room at 9:30 a.m. CT, and had the surgery about two hours later.
"The emergency room wanted to do the surgery at 5 or 6 that evening," Hill said. "I would've for sure lost [the fingers] then. The only focus we had was that the fingers were living. We attached the arteries and whatever goes on."
They added some bone to his middle finger so he could move it.
"They had me hold a ball in my left hand to see where my ring finger was placed, so when they sewed my finger back on, it was fixed in that position," he said. "I guess you could say [my hand] was built for baseball now."
At the time, Hill even considered having the fingers cut off if it would shorten his rehab time. He was told he couldn't throw until January. He was throwing a tennis ball in November.
The rehab wasn't easy. Give credit to his persistent therapist, Polly Sensaman, who also had a baseball background. Her father was Ken Johnson, who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1950 and went 4-1 with the Whiz Kids.
"It was a long deal -- three, four hours of therapy every day," he said. "You battle a lot of nightmares and ups and downs emotionally as far as your career goes. Some days are good, and you figure, 'Oh, I'll be back easy.' And the next day, you get punished by the therapist, and you think, 'Man, I don't know.'
"You have to learn how to give high fives all over again and shake hands all over again," he said. "You have to do everything different."
Looking at his right hand now, Hill's little finger barely moves, his ring finger is contorted, and the middle finger is crooked. But he can work with it, and, more importantly, he can play with it. Hill was examined in Chicago in December by the team hand specialist.
"He looked at me and said he didn't think I was going to play again," Hill said. "You've got some of the best people in the world saying, 'I don't know, I don't see it, but good luck.'
"In the back of my mind, I always knew that if I got the opportunity to play, and the Cubs kept me in the lineup, I just knew I was going to be able to do it," he continued. "I knew it'd be hard, and it looked ugly in the beginning. You don't want to be detrimental to your team. I feel like I'm out there playing, and I feel like I'm hurting my team, and I'm depressed. I've learned to deal with that and gotten help with it. It'll be great to get on with it and put it in the past."
He batted .158 in April, saying it felt as if he had "frozen carrots for fingers." He followed that with a .230 May.
"My wife talked me out of calling [Cubs general manager Jim] Hendry a couple times to ask if there was a manager or coaching job or roving catching job, because I didn't know if it was going to work," Hill said. "It warmed up a little bit, and I kind of took off."
Give Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua credit, too. He figured out what Hill needed to do to get his swing back. Hill batted .432 in 23 games in July.
"I did some things I probably should've done 10 years ago," he said of his hitting.
He's still able to switch hit. He's had to add a taped knot on his bat to help his grip. He still has pain in his right hand, but on Monday, it didn't hurt too bad.
There was a game this year when Hill was crossed up on a pitch, tried to block it in the dirt and ended up with stitch marks on his fingers. The Iowa Cubs wanted him to go for X-rays.
"I said, 'Do you really want to put the technician through that? You'll scare the hell out of her,'" Hill said. "They said, 'You have three broken fingers.' I said, 'No kidding.'"
When his playing days are over, Hill will likely have at least two of the fingers removed. He's worried about arthritis and the pain.
"It's going to hurt sitting on the bench, it's going to hurt hitting," he said, "so I might as well play."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.