SANTA ANA, Calif. — When you tell Mater Dei alum Cory Hahn he can’t do something, there’s a charge that goes through his mind. A charge so strong it borders defiance.
It fuels him.
So after being told he would never function normally again after suffering a freak injury on the baseball field two years ago, it only added fuel to his fire.
Hahn, who played on the United States’ first gold-winning 18U team alongside Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Manny Machado of the Orioles, was selected in the 26th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres. After already signing his Letter of Intent with Arizona State, he decided to honor his pledge to the Sun Devils.
Fresh off leading Mater Dei High School to a CIF title in 2010 and being named an All-American and Orange County’s 2010 Player of the Year, Hahn was ready for the next level.
In just his third game at Arizona State, he was at first base when a double steal was called. It was the first steal attempt of his college career.
The throw was off-line as Hahn slid head first into second base. His head went into the leg of the player covering, fracturing his C-5 vertebrae.
He was left on the field motionless, paralyzed from the chest down.
Normal as he knew it no longer existed. His new normal would consist of around-the-clock care from his parents, hours upon hours of physical therapy, and a new view of life from the seat of his wheelchair.
Things that were so easily taken for granted like being able to feed himself or get out of bed on his own now required assistance.
Doctors told him he’d never be able to walk again.
While recovering, many notable athletes reached out to offer their support. Former Sun Devil and current Dodger Andre Ethier invited Hahn out to Dodgers spring training. Angels skipper Mike Scioscia, Angels ace Jered Weaver, then-Angels outfielder Torii Hunter and Hahn’s favorite player Josh Hamilton were among those to visit him in the hospital. Washington’s Danny Espinosa, also a Mater Dei alum, extended an invite to batting practice in Anaheim and Red Sox infielder and former ASU legend Dustin Pedroia sent him a video message to help him through the trying time.
But the competitive athlete that he is, Hahn wasn’t down for long.
After a year off, he returned to Tempe to continue his pursuit of a business degree from Arizona State. Despite missing a whole year of school, he’s now on pace to graduate in four years with a target graduation set for Spring 2014.
While living off campus with three members of ASU’s baseball team, Hahn crammed in summer school, online courses, and even took as many as 20 units in a semester to get himself back on track.
“If I can do it in four (years), that would be quite the accomplishment for myself,” Hahn said.
Also a student-coach for ASU’s baseball team, Hahn’s biggest accomplishment to date is being able to drive again. Last summer he received a $75,000 customized Toyota van from an anonymous donor. Even without any function in his legs, he’s able to operate the car using hand controls.
“It was nerve-wracking at first,” Hahn said of getting behind the wheel. “The first time [was] a complete failure. I struggled horribly at it. I almost was like ‘Wow, this may not be possible.’ “I put my head down and was like ‘Alright, I got to grind to get to be able to do this stuff.’”
And grind he did.
Once told he’d never be able to drive again, Hahn last summer made the six-and-a-half hour drive back to Tempe with his father Dale trailing behind in his truck.
“It was a big accomplishment for us,” Dale said. “His endurance has been phenomenal.”
On Saturday Hahn was back in Orange County for the 2nd Annual Trinity Bat Co. Home Run Challenge, which benefits the Cory Hahn Fund and featured former Dodger Steve Garvey and Angels outfielder Mark Trumbo, among others. While back home, Hahn reflected on his once-promising career.
Like in 2009, when Mater Dei’s chances were slim to get past Norco in the CIF quarterfinals. Norco pitcher Matt Hobgood, who was the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year and was taken by the Orioles with the fifth overall pick in the MLB Draft later that year, hadn’t lost a game since his sophomore year. After striking out in his first at-bat, Hahn hit a grand slam for the first of his two homers of the day as Mater Dei went on to win 7-4 to advance to the CIF semifinals.
“I threw some good pitches to Cory,” Hobgood recalled. “I think some of them were 95, 96 miles an hour.”
Or there was Team USA’s game against Cuba in 2009 when Hahn drove in a run and scored another in a 6-1 win that snapped Cuba’s streak of seven consecutive Pan American Junior Championships.
“I don’t have a problem thinking about my past playing ball and stuff,” he said. “I have so many good memories that sometimes to relive them is pretty cool.
“It makes me look back on the competitive fire that I have.”
The charge, the borderline defiance that erupts when he’s told “he can’t” wakes up the competitive nature that lies within him that pushes him to say “he can.” It has allowed him to accomplish so much more than he was supposed to be able to in the nearly two years since his accident.
“I’m not going to listen to anybody say ‘No, it’s never going to happen’ because until it never happens it can always happen,” Hahn said. “I’m very optimistic about that and very positive in a sense that I’m always going to believe that something is going to happen.”