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Hill back coaching infield after knee surgery

JUPITER, Fla. -- Once the hop returned to his step, Perry Hill felt it was time to return to coaching.

On manager Mike Redmond's new staff, Hill is a familiar face with a proven track record. But a degenerative left knee caused him great pain, which led to him walking away from the game after the 2011 season.

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Now with a surgically restructured knee, Hill is back as Miami's infield and first-base coach.

"Absolutely no pain," said Hill, nicknamed Bone.

Having Hill once again in their system also is a relief for the Marlins, who regain the services of one of the best instructors in the game.

"Anybody who talks about Perry Hill in the baseball world always says, 'He's the best,'" Redmond said. "They say the same thing. He's the best. The best infield guy. When I was playing, we used to always talk about if I ever managed. I was like, 'Bone, you're going to be my infield guy.' It worked out."

Hill is entering his third stint with the organization. The first covered 2002-06, and under his instruction, Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell and Derek Lee each won Gold Gloves.

In 2011, he returned for one season, but the knee reduced his mobility and made it difficult to do such basic things as walking comfortably from the dugout to [the] coaches' box.

"I said, 'You know what? I've got to get it fixed,'" Hill said.

Rather than push it, he decided to step aside.

Hill's quality of life changed on Sept. 10, 2012. At Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Flower Mound, Texas, he underwent a complete knee repair.

By mid-November, he was medically cleared to resume activities, and he performed rigorous physical therapy.

"I had plenty of time for my rehab," he said. "I was like, 'If [coaching] was meant to be in 2013, it was meant to be.'"

The Marlins hired Hill shortly after Redmond was named manager on Nov. 1.

For so long, Hill dealt with so much pain. Now, he's walking with only a slight limp and he's able to jog and move around.

Back in 2011, he hobbled and struggled to do the basics, like hit ground balls to his infielders.

"I got it done," Hill said. "But it was not very comfortable."

Name it, and his left knee probably had it. He had four surgeries before it was completely reconstructed. He had ligaments repaired, meniscus taken out, calcium deposits, and Baker's cysts and fluid behind the knee.

"I've had everything," he said. "Plus arthritis. Then I started getting old."

In 2011, through intense discomfort, the 60-year-old Hill labored to get around the field every day.

"This one team I won't mention," he said, "every time I jogged to first base, when my foot hit the ground, they would yell, 'Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!' In unison."

Players, good naturedly, called him names like "Hippity Hop."

"I had to get it fixed, just for quality of life," he said.

Moving better than he has in six years, Hill is focused on fixing whatever problems Miami's infielders might have.

With such a young team, the Marlins will be counting on plenty of instruction. Hill considers himself a teacher, and someone with tunnel vision when it comes to fielding.

"I'm one dimensional, too," he said. "Don't ask me about hitting, pitching, baserunning -- I'll mess you up in a heartbeat."

The infield will feature Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, Donovan Solano at second and Placido Polanco at third base. First baseman Logan Morrison is not yet cleared to run, and he may wind up starting off the season on the disabled list. So Greg Dobbs, Austin Kearns and Joe Mahoney are among the options at first base.

Although several players have been in camp early, the first full-squad workouts get under way on Friday at the Roger Dean Stadium complex.

"The first two or three days is just watching them," Hill said. "This group has a lot of different guys that play different positions, moreso than I've had in the past. So it will be interesting. I will have to flop them around a lot. There is going to be a lot more switching than there has been in previous years."

Hechavarria is set at shortstop, but Polanco and Solano could be switched. And there are a number of players, like non-roster invitees Chone Figgins and Nick Green, who play three positions.

Beginning Friday, the infielders can count on getting an earful of Hill's fundamental basics. They're called the "6 F's of Fielding" -- feet, field, funnel, footwork, fire and follow. If implemented properly, each step is important in developing proper technique.

"He's a dream come true for a manager," Redmond said. "I don't have to worry about the defense. I know he's got it all taken care of."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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