Injured Cory Hahn has Arizona State’s support
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz.
Cory Hahn wasn’t on the field with his Arizona State teammates, but he was there in spirit.
The Sun Devils’ game against Delaware on Friday night was their first since Hahn suffered a serious neck injury in a baserunning collision last week, an incident that has left the former Santa Ana Mater Dei High star hospitalized.
Hahn, however, remained a presence at Packard Stadium.
He was announced as the starting designated hitter before the game.
Sun Devils players and coaches wore Hahn’s No. 34 on their stirrups and caps.
And they ringed their wrists with inspirational maroon and gold bands that read: “Damn Right I’m Safe.”
That’s what Hahn, lying motionless on the field, said to Arizona State Coach Tim Esmay last Sunday after he was hurt stealing second base against New Mexico.
“You’re on the base,” Esmay informed the freshman as paramedics prepared to move him.
“I’m on the base?” Hahn replied.
“Yeah,” Esmay said. “You were safe.”
“Damn right, I’m safe,” Hahn shot back.
The feisty phrase has become a rallying cry for the Sun Devils, a few of whom were in tears after Hahn was rushed to a Phoenix hospital, where he underwent surgery that night.
Hahn’s parents have not spoken publicly about their son’s condition, and university and hospital officials say they have been asked not to release any information. But several people said Hahn has movement in his neck, arms and hands.
“Every day has been a positive,” Esmay, speaking generally, said of Hahn’s progress.
Those who know the 19-year-old from Corona are not surprised. If anyone possesses the fortitude necessary to persevere through this kind of ordeal, they say, it’s Hahn.
Mater Dei junior Ty Moore was in the eighth grade when he met Hahn at a baseball camp at the University of Arizona. Moore quickly made him his mentor, watching and following Hahn’s lead on how to prepare and conduct himself.
Two years later, they combined to pitch a perfect game in the Southern Section Division I final.
Moore said the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Hahn has always been the toughest player on the field.
“He’s been a fighter in everything he does,” Moore said. “I would expect him to be the same right now.”
Hahn, the Times’ 2010 high school player of the year, fought his way into Arizona State’s starting lineup as the designated hitter for the Feb. 18 season opener against New Mexico. He was a defensive replacement in center field in the first game of last Sunday’s doubleheader before starting the second game.
With a runner on second, Hahn drew a first-inning walk. On the next pitch, he broke for second on the back end of a double steal. Hahn dived toward the bag, his head hitting New Mexico second baseman Kyle Stiner’s left leg.
Janet and Karen Caldwell have attended Arizona State games regularly since the early 1980s. The sisters, den mothers of the program, sit directly behind the Sun Devils’ third base dugout.
If an injured player’s feet are moving, they don’t worry quite as much.
Hahn’s feet were not.
“Everyone in the stands knew it was serious,” Janet Caldwell said Friday, her eyes welling with tears. “It’s never been so quiet in this stadium.”
Players have since visited and joked with Hahn at the hospital. Esmay, however, has declined to make them available for interviews regarding their teammate, citing the sensitivity of the situation.
“It’s going to be a day-to-day thing with him, but at least we all can feel and talk to him and know that things are on the right path,” Esmay said.
Esmay has heard from Jim Henderson, a former Westlake High and Arizona State catcher who recovered from a broken neck suffered in a 1992 automobile accident that occurred a few days after he began his pro career.
The greater baseball community also has reached out to Hahn and his family. Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, who played at Arizona State, and Angels Manager Mike Scioscia are among those who have visited Hahn.
“I wanted to wish him luck,” Ethier said, “and let him know a lot of the ASU guys are thinking about him.”
Said Scioscia: “To see a kid that has a passion for baseball…with that passion, hopefully you’re going to see a full recovery. You just keep praying for it.”
That’s what the UCLA-bound Moore and Coach Burt Call said they and others are doing at Mater Dei, where Hahn blossomed into a possible major league prospect.
But it wasn’t always smooth.
After a standout freshman season, he slumped terribly in 2008 with dozens of strikeouts at the plate and a batting average that fell below .200. Hahn told The Times’ Eric Sondheimer that the experience humbled him and taught him even more about perseverance.
“We worked through it,” Call said.
In 2009, Hahn provided one of the high school season’s most dramatic moments by hitting a grand slam in the playoffs against Norco’s Matt Hobgood, a first-round draft pick by the Baltimore Orioles.
He built on the momentum as a senior, batting .411 and slugging 10 home runs. And with the team’s ace injured, the left-hander pitched for the first time in high school, going 14-1 with an earned-run average of 0.89.
Hahn capped his high school career by pitching five innings of a perfect game against Dana Hills, slugging a home run and making a spectacular catch in center field.
Hahn told pro scouts that it would take $600,000 for him to pass on the opportunity to play at Arizona State, a figure that drastically lowered his draft position. The San Diego Padres, impressed by his skills and makeup, still selected him in the 26th round.
“He’s just a baseball rat,” Jaron Madison, the Padres’ scouting director, said Friday in a phone interview. “He’s a grinder-type kid who absolutely loves the game.”
Hahn’s injury was one of several situations that that have recently befallen Arizona State.
Earlier this month, Sun Devils running back Deantre Lewis went to visit his sister and newborn niece in Riverside County and was hit by a stray bullet from nearby gunfire, reportedly while sitting on a relative’s porch. Lewis had surgery to remove the bullet from his buttocks and returned to school last week.
Three days after Hahn’s injury and surgery, it was reported that Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet was giving up football after suffering four concussions in five years.
Athletic Director Lisa Love said the Sun Devils’ community has rallied, quietly operating as “backstage workers” to assist and support the athletes and their families.
“The goal,” Love said, “is to simply say, ‘Yes, we have that taken care of,’ so there is nothing to distract the family from where their hearts and minds are.”
Sun Devils fans were thinking about Hahn on Friday, signing poster-sized get-well cards that the Caldwell sisters and the “Diamond Devils” student support group planned to send to the hospital.
Esmay had Hahn announced as a starter, he said, because it was “a good opportunity to kind of be back into what he’s all about.”
After a wrenching week and a defeat by Delaware, Esmay still managed a smile. He was speaking of Hahn and recounting his memorable rejoinder before he was taken to the hospital.
“That’s who he is,” Esmay said.
Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.
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