D-backs add to inspirational story, select Hahn
Team president Hall personally chooses paralyzed former ASU star in 34th round
PHOENIX -- The sentence was simple enough, but as D-backs President and CEO Derrick Hall announced Arizona's 34th round pick on Saturday, his voice grew with pride with each passing word.
"The D-backs humbly select, redraft ID number 9577, Hahn, Cory, center fielder, Arizona State University, hometown Corona, California."
Why exactly would a team president phone in to make a 34th-round selection? That has everything to do with the name Hall so excitedly called out.
Days away from beginning their college careers at ASU, roommates Cory Hahn and Trevor Williams sat in their dorm room one February afternoon in 2011 and talked about their futures in baseball.
For Hahn, he had already developed a name for himself, earning Mr. Baseball honors in California his senior season at Mater Dei High School and impressing the Padres enough to draft him in the 26th round in 2010.
He would've gone higher, but he told scouts before the Draft he wanted to go to college. At ASU, Hahn hoped he could follow in the footsteps of Major Leaguers like Andre Ethier and Dustin Pedroia, who improved their stock dramatically while playing for the Sun Devils.
"I remember we were like, 'Three years from now, we'll both be first-rounders, let's make sure it happens,'" said Williams, who the Marlins took 44th overall on Thursday. "It's crazy how life works sometimes, though."
There are a lot of words that can describe what happened to Hahn in the following days, but "crazy" is a good place to start.
In just his third game for the Sun Devils, Hahn attempted to take second base on the back end of a double steal. The throw from the catcher to second, however, sailed high and wide, forcing the fielder to lunge directly into the path of Hahn, who slid headfirst. The second baseman's knee collided directly with Hahn's head, causing the freshman's neck to go back in a jerking motion.
Hahn was motionless on the field for about 10 minutes before paramedics arrived. Before long at the hospital, he learned he suffered a fracture of the C5 vertebrae in his neck, damaging his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed from the chest down, which ended his very real Major League dreams before they ever really began.
In the more than two years since his accident, Hahn and his family have become a beacon of light for thousands not only in the ASU community, but nationally as well. The young man who had his life ripped away from him eventually returned to a normal workload of college classes, learned to drive a specialized car and served as the Sun Devils' student coach the last two seasons.
His most famous moment of strength, however, came just moments after the injury. While waiting to be taken off the field on a stretcher, Hahn asked ASU coach Tim Esmay if he stole the bag safely. Upon hearing that he did, Hahn replied, "Damn right I'm safe."
So proud of the @dbacks for selecting Cory Hahn in the 34th rd. Cory, who wore #34 at ASU, was paralyzed sliding head first in his 2nd game.- Derrick Hall (@DHallDbacks) June 8, 2013
There are countless other stories of Hahn's remarkable perseverance since being paralyzed, but none of them fully encompass how much of an inspiration he has been to the people around him. That's why the D-backs drafted him on Saturday, and that's why the moment was so special for everyone involved.
"It was a very emotional selection for us to make," Hall said. "But it's not about us. It's really about Cory and his family."
Said D-backs scouting director Ray Montgomery: "There were a lot of choked up tears in the room. I'm a father and I have children, so I have the utmost respect for the Hahn family and what they've gone through. To be a small part in their lives, it was something that'll stay with me the rest of my lifetime."
In Jacksonville with his family to accept a national college athlete courage award, Hahn actually missed his name being announced live because his flight home to California was about to take off. Fortunately, the D-backs called him a few minutes beforehand to inform him of their plan, so by the time Hahn's plane reached cruising altitude, he snuck into the bathroom to turn on his phone with hopes of reading the news.
"I think it vibrated for three or four minutes straight," said Hahn of the numerous congratulations he received following the pick.
The round he was taken, the 34th, made the moment even more special. Hahn wore No. 34 at ASU and following his injury, his teammates donned the number on their stirrups.
"It's something that you can't really put into words, it was very humbling that they wanted to do this for me," Hahn said of being selected. "It's something I'll always cherish. No one made them do it, so the fact that they did -- I'll be forever thankful. They gave up a Draft spot for me. They didn't have to do that. There were plenty of good players still available."
Before the D-backs selected him, it had been a bittersweet weekend for Hahn. On one hand, he was thrilled for his friends being drafted and beginning their professional careers. On the other, he knew it could've easily been him in the spotlight.
"It was tough, because barring injury I knew I'd be right there with those guys," Hahn said. "But at the same time, I'm happy for all my friends because I know how hard they've worked to get to this point. I saw it all first-hand."
Williams saw the same thing in Hahn, which makes playing the "what if" game so easy.
"He would've been a first-rounder, no question," Williams said. "There are some guys who never saw Cory play and don't understand it, but he would've made it."
Amazingly, the D-backs weren't the only team interested in drafting Hahn. According to Williams, clubs such as the Marlins and Padres also expressed interest in taking him but Arizona grabbed him off the board first.
"That just speaks volumes to the type of person that Cory is," Montgomery said. "All the people he's ever come into contact just glow about him, from teammates to coaches, he's just a dynamic kid. There are great things coming in his future."
I cannot thank the @dbacks enough for what they have done! So humbled and will be forever grateful! So honored to be a diamondback!- Coryhahn34 (@Coryhahn34) June 9, 2013
Now owners of Hahn's rights, the D-backs aren't done with the outfielder. Even though he won't join the rest of the draftees in the Minors, the club hopes to hire him in the future for a position in the organization.
"We want to make this permanent," Hall said. "We don't want to make it just about the selection and about him being a Draft pick, but about working here in full-time employment with the Diamondbacks. Hopefully we'll make that come to fruition for him and his family here soon."
That's something Hahn would love.
"That's been the goal of mine. Now that I'm not playing anymore, I've had a lot of time to think about what I want to do, and I want to stay in baseball," Hahn said. "I still want to be involved in the game, so the front office is ideal."
Even though his playing days are over, Hahn still undergoes hours of physical therapy with the belief that someday he'll be able to walk again. He has brought the same insatiable drive he used to become a highly-touted baseball prospect and implemented it into his new life.
"That injury couldn't have happened to a better person. If it would've happened to anyone else, it would've been the death of them," Williams said. "There's no doubt Cory still gets upset about it, but he's got the willpower to persevere through it. He's just very full of life and he enjoys making other people happy."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.