Koyie Hill is lucky to be on an MLB spring training roster. Sure, it’s with the Cubs, but the 30-year-old catcher is fortunate enough to be able to even grasp a baseball at all.
Since his debut with the Dodgers in 2003, Hill has been shuffled back & forth between the bigs and the minors, suffering such injuries as a broken ankle and torn elbow ligaments along the way. But it was an accident two years ago that almost ended his baseball career - and could have left him disfigured for life.
Gordon Edes of YAHOO! SPORTS writes that Koyie was working in his home in Wichita, KS, using a table saw to cut together a window frame. His father, Kennard Hill, was a master carpenter, so working with the saw was not an unfamiliar experience for Koyie. But when he slid one particular piece of wood into the saw, the blades grabbed the board and pulled it in, taking his right hand with it:
Alone in his basement, his pregnant wife Meghan upstairs, Hill let out a scream. When he pulled his hand back, there were empty spaces where his fingers should have been.
“All of them were hanging by a thread or nerve or piece of skin somehow,” he said. “My pinkie was completely off, except for maybe a sliver of skin, and it was hanging down somewhere in my wrist area. My ring finger was kind of in the same situation – it was dinged out, laying toward the side.
Despite the horrific injury, Koyie remembers handling the situation without getting into a panic. When he arrived at the hospital with his mangled hand wrapped in a blood-soaked towel, he calmly told his insurance information to the woman behind the registration desk:
“She said, ‘Let’s take a look,’ ” he said. “I think she thought I just nicked it or something. When I showed her, she turned green. Things started happening quick.”
It took several hours, but surgery to reattach Hill’s severed fingers was successful. The procedure was done by Dr. J. Mark Melhorn, a hand surgeon who also happened to have a similar background to Koyie:
“I played baseball,” Melhorn said. “I was a catcher in Legion ball. I told Koyie, ‘You will get some stiffness. Your fingers will be stiff. So we have to figure out what is the most functional position for you to throw a baseball to second base. It may not be the optimal position for other people, but it will help you throw.’ ”
In addition, Melhorn had also attended seminars with members of the Cubs medical staff. Hill’s recovery time was originally expected to take up to three months, but thanks to the doctor’s surgical skill & baseball background, Koyie was tossing tennis balls within a few weeks.
Still, Hill’s accident has not gone without consequences:
He is careful shaking hands – he’ll wince if you squeeze too hard – and has changed the way he high-fives and claps. In cold weather, his fingers get stiff, something he’ll probably deal with the rest of his life.
Today, Koyie is trying to secure a roster spot with the Cubs, hopefully as backup to starting catcher Geovany Soto. Even if he ends up assigned to Triple-A Iowa, Hill will just be happy to be part of the team. But what he won’t be doing is going back into carpentry.
“I won’t even deal with a pair of scissors now,” he said.