ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia senior Mark Thornhill has been through a lot since signing with the Diamond Dogs as one of the state's top players out of Greenbrier High School.
Not all of his experiences have been good.
Three knee surgeries have hampered Thornhill during his four-year Georgia career, but he still has managed to have a successful career. This year, Thornhill hopes a move to first base will help him go out in style.
"I was joking around with (Matt) Cavender in the outfield the other day that when I show up at St. Mary's Hospital they know me by my first name since I've been there so many times," Thornhill said. "It's been a long, long haul, but hopefully this year will make it all worthwhile."
A healthy Thornhill figures to contribute mightily to the Diamond Dogs, who were ranked 16th in the most recent Baseball America Top 25 poll.
In between surgeries, Thornhill led the team in hitting (.369) his freshman year before rebounding from an injury-plagued 1999 campaign to drive in a career-high 49 runs last season.
"It's been somewhat frustrating since the beginning because I had such a good season my freshman year, and then the knee surgeries my sophomore and junior years," said Thornhill, who went 2-for-3 in an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves last March. "Those years were more frustrating than anything else. But this one coming up, it's pretty obvious that this is the best team we've had since I've been here. Hopefully, having gone through the coaching change and withstanding all the knee injuries and the pain, it will all pay off here at the end."
If it does, his perspective will come from a different spot on the field.
When Thornhill arrived at Georgia, he immediately was inserted into the lineup as the team's starting third baseman. In 1999 he committed only seven errors in 137 chances and finished as the SEC's finest at the position with a .956 fielding percentage.
This year, Thornhill will call first base home, a move which was made to accommodate the 5-foot-11, 206-pounder's cranky knees and to give Andy Neufeld (.333, 11 home runs, 53 RBI) a permanent position to play this spring.
"It's been different. At first I was a little worried about it because I never played the position," Thornhill said. "I played shortstop in high school, and I even played some second base before moving over to third in college. First base is a brand new deal."
Thornhill isn't making the transition alone.
In his effort to replace the graduated Josh Dorminy, head coach Ron Polk has been working out Thornhill, Cavender and redshirt freshman Blake Bodenmiller at the position.
All three will see time at first base, although Thornhill's success with the bat should ensure he remains in the lineup in some capacity, no matter who's manning the bag at first.
"We all seem to be getting the hang of it," Thornhill said. "Bodenmiller's played there for a while, but Cavander's new to it to it like I am. I'm still working with my footwork, but I'm feeling more and more comfortable every day, although it's going to take me five, six or 10 games to really get the feel."