Hill finds prosperity north of the border

Aaron Hill

In Toronto, former LSU baseball star Aaron Hill is the Blue Jays' starting second baseman.

This is his second full year in "the show" and Hill has quickly established himself as one of the top players in a talented infield. Last year, when he started both at short and at second, Aaron hit .291 with 28 doubles, 6 HR and 50 RBI. Between 2000 and 2003, Hill plied his trade for the Tigers, earning SEC Player of the Year honors as a senior.

 

That same year, he was taken in the second round of the June amateur draft and began his pro career. Aaron reached Toronto in 2005 and has never left. Tiger Rag recently caught up with him before a game in Texas and here's that conversation.

 

Hill summed up his LSU experience as follows.

 

"It's hard to explain what you go through in college because it's such a life-changing couple of years," he said. "The best decision that I have made so far in my life was not going into the draft right out of high school and to college. You mature so much as a baseball player, but also as a person. Playing in front of crowds like that and with such high expectations definitely helps shape you to what you want to be later on."

 

In June 2000, Anaheim took him in the seventh round, but Hill never really came close to signing with the Halos. The Northern California native was all set to play college ball close to home until he took a visit to Baton Rouge and things quickly changed.

 

"It was kind of a weird reason why I went there," Hill admitted. "I had verbally committed to Fresno State with kind of a hometown thing. I had one visit left and went down there unofficially. I didn't know anything about Louisiana as a California boy. My dad, brother and I went down there, met everybody and had a blast."

 

"The people and atmosphere were unlike anything I had ever experienced," he said. "There was nothing on the table from them except maybe $500 for books. I had a full ride from Fresno State but I told my dad that I wanted to go to LSU. It was just a feeling that I had. I didn't follow college baseball when I was young and didn't know about LSU's national championships and all that stuff. It was weird because I never saw myself going there from an early age or anything like that."

 

Hill is one of four SEC products currently on the Blue Jay roster. The others are Scott Downs (Kentucky), Frank Thomas (Auburn) and fellow Tiger Brian Tallet. Aaron credits playing in the nation's top conference for college baseball as helping him get acclimated to pro ball.

 

"Just the atmosphere and the expectations helped prepare you," he said. "You have to deal with the media and everything. It's such a high-end program, especially in Louisiana, where there's nothing else like it. It's almost like Louisiana's big-league baseball team. There's nothing better than the SEC competition-wise."

 

But before he started his pro career, Hill played for the U.S. National Team in 2002, which he calls the experience of a lifetime.

 

"That was a great experience," he said. "To go overseas was great. One great part is after you do it and seeing all of these guys develop into great pros. I haven't seen a lot of those guys in a while. It's fun keeping in touch with those guys and seeing them grow up in the baseball world. Going overseas was something I would love to do again sometime. It was cool to see other cultures. It was fun. We came up short in the championship game, but it was an experience that nobody will ever forget."

 

In 2003, Hill made his pro debut at Auburn of the New York Penn League and hit .361 in 33 games before earning a late season promotion to Single-A Dunedin of the Florida State League, where he hit .286 in 32 games. The following season, Aaron made the jump to Double-A New Hampshire of the Eastern League and hit .279 with 134 hits, 26 doubles, 11 HR, 80 RBI and 63 walks.

 

Aaron started 2005 with Triple-A Syracuse and played in 38 games for the Chiefs (.301, 5-18) before being called up to the big leagues in mid-May. His debut came on May 20, 2005 in an interleague game against Washington, when he was the Jay's designated hitter. Hill's first big-league hit came in the fourth inning as he tripled to left center, scoring two runs in a 6-1 Toronto victory. It's a day that Hill still remembers well.

 

"I remember the hit but the thing I remember the most was how nice the uniforms felt compared to the minors," he admitted. "If you play your whole career and never forget where you come from, then you will go a long way. It's a great experience up here but a lot of times, it's easy to forget about all that hard work you did in the minor leagues, the bus rides and everything. Sometimes, you take things for granted. We have a lot of guys here who keep everybody grounded and I think that's key."

 

Hill first started getting notice when in 2004, he earned MVP honors at the Futures Game during MLB All-Star Weekend.

 

"Russ Adams was supposed to go and he got hurt," he said. "Then, they invited me to replace him. I would like to say so (that it was destiny). Just to play in a big-league stadium with 30,000 people and to have the game on the line with me at bat, that is what every kid dreams about. Hopefully, it will happen again in an All-Star Game or World Series and there will be more to come."

 

In his third big-league season, former LSU shortstop Aaron Hill continues to do good things for the Toronto Blue Jays, much as he did in Baton Rouge. Look for even better things from this ex-Tiger in the future.

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