ST. LOUIS - All that was foggy is now clear for Aaron Hill, and he knows not to ever take that for granted.

Last year at this time the Toronto Blue Jays second baseman was at home struggling with post-concussion syndrome, the result of a collision in the outfield with then teammate David Eckstein during a May 29 game at Oakland. Light exercise left him nauseous and dizzy, a heavy head and headaches made normal day-to-day living impossible.

So the 27-year-old has good reason to relish every part of his first all-star experience this week, including starting and batting eighth for the American League in Tuesday's contest. He's made a point of taking it all in.

"It's pretty special," Hill said of his remarkable turnaround. "Don't forget how easily something can be taken away. I keep saying that over and over, but it's the truth. I'm just grateful to be back in a uniform and be successful."

Hill started at second base and went 0-for-3 while making a couple of nice defensive plays.

The affable Hill is one of the all-star game's better feel-good stories this year, coming back the way he has after missing four months last season because of his post-concussion issues.

In 89 games, he's batting .292 with 20 home runs and 60 RBIs, the latter two both team highs, and he's back to playing Gold Glove calibre defence. Throw in his tenacity and quiet leadership, and there's a good case to be made for Hill as the Blue Jays' MVP so far.

"I'm thrilled for him," said teammate Roy Halladay. "There were questions for himself whether or not he'd be back and how good he could be. To be able to come back and have a season like this is incredible."

As he recovered Hill did his best to keep the darker thoughts from his mind. It was tough enough for him to fight his natural inclination to work out and actually obey doctors orders to cease all exercise, that he didn't need to worry if he'd played his last game.

Instead, he listened to the medical advice and shut down. First the heavy head and grogginess disappeared, and by October he started feeling like himself again. He started with light exercises in November and was ready to go by spring training.

"It was something you wanted to take Advil for that it wouldn't hurt. Just a heavy groggy head is the easiest way to describe it, constant from morning to night," he recalled.

"This is pretty amazing right now."

Even better, there have been absolutely no concerns about his health so far, and he's been given just one day off by manager Cito Gaston. Hill's durability has led Gaston to muse about resting his infielder more often in the second half.

But given Hill's importance to the lineup, that may be hard to do.

Hill and Adam Lind have been the Blue Jays' most reliable run-producers in this season of early hopes crushed by grim realities, and who would have predicted that?

Already this season he's surpassed the previous franchise record for home runs by a second baseman he shared with Roberto Alomar at 17, and is on track for new career-bests in virtually every offensive category.

He's as surprised as anyone about the power surge, as he's been a gap hitter throughout his career, and is at a loss to explain it.

"I'm going to keep telling myself I'm a doubles guy," Hill said laughing. "The minute I think I can hit home runs, I'm going to see a lot of numbers slide. I can't put my finger on it, the only thing is being more consistent in the cages."

His new routine in the batting cage is the one major change for Hill this season, and the frequency and focus of his work has led to some comparisons with Halladay's unmatched regimen.

Every day, both before and after batting practice, Hill hits in the cage for a minimum of 10-15 swings per session, and that has helped him be more consistent with his swing than he's ever been.

It has worked so well, he declined to take part in Monday's Home Run Derby out of fear of disrupting his swing.

"Even if it's 10-15 swings, it doesn't have to be for 30 minutes, it just getting the swing down and feeling that feel, that nice, short, level swing that I like to feel. That's all I'm trying to do," Hill said of his cage work, which can get very tedious.

"Oh yeah. But those are the days you've got to get in there.

"They say it's a grind but it's easy when you're tired to not do anything. You try to think that maybe you're separating yourself from some other guys if you go in and keep doing it, no matter how you feel."

There's plenty for Hill to feel good about right now.

"Everything about this is pretty cool," he said. "We're having fun right now."

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