DETROIT -- Going into the 2005 season, Shea Hillenbrand was slated to be the designated hitter for the Blue Jays, who acquired him from the Diamondbacks last winter. But he was more than a DH for them during the first half of the season. With the injury to Corey Koskie, Hillenbrand found himself playing 42 games at third base and was a pleasant surprise, showing above average range and committing only four errors. Hillenbrand also has played 23 games at first base and handled the position well. In fact, Hillenbrand is more proud of his defense this year than hitting .302 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs before the All-Star break.
"It was one of those things where I've been labeled early in my career," Hillenbrand said. "The last two offseasons, I've worked tremendously hard, more so with my defense than my offense." Hillenbrand credits Washington Nationals bench coach Eddie Rodriguez for his success with the glove. The two worked together when both were with the Diamondbacks. Rodriguez worked with Hillenbrand on fundamental footwork, how to keep his feet moving before the ball reached him and how to field the ball properly. "All I needed was an opportunity," Hillenbrand said. "When you work hard and take pride in your stuff, you like to overwhelm people with success." However, it's because of his offense that Hillenbrand is a two-time All-Star. He was the starting third baseman in the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee, when he was a member of the Red Sox. Hillenbrand is happy that he has accomplished so much in the big leagues and been able to prove people wrong. "It's unbelievable that I'm a two-time All-Star," Hillenbrand said. "There were a lot of people who had doubts and were skeptical of what I was capable of doing. There are always critics on everything that you do. I just go out there, prepare myself and help my team win. It's gratifying to see the hard work you put in the offseason [pay off]." Hillenbrand didn't let the trade to Toronto affect his work on the field. He admitted it was tough to be traded to Canada, but he has learned there are a lot of baseball fans north of the United States border. "We have a great coaching staff with great players and front office. We have great fans on top of that," Hillenbrand said. "Toronto is a hockey town, but there are a lot of people who come to our games." As badly as he wants to win, he knows the Blue Jays will have to battle through the loss of ace Roy Halladay, who was also elected to the Midsummer Classic but had to withdraw after fracturing the tibia bone in his left leg. The injury will keep Halladay sidelined up to six weeks. "We lost the biggest captain of our team," Hillenbrand said. "We are a young team. We are streaky. We could have won a lot more games than we did. It's a learning process we have to go through with a lot of young guys. But we have a good attitude and we go out there to compete."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.