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Cory Hahn is still part of a team

Paralyzed by an accident in a baseball game at Arizona State last year, the former Mater Dei standout gets along with the help of his father, who has given up his job to care for his son.

February 25, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • Cory Hahn, who was paralyzed from the chest down while sliding into second base during an early season game last year, watches Arizona State prepare for a game against UC Riverside. Hahn continues his studies while keeping a close tab on the baseball team.
Cory Hahn, who was paralyzed from the chest down while sliding into second… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

From Tempe, Ariz. -- The coach once helped carry his son from tee ball to the top of the high school baseball world, never missing a game, cheering every moment, from midnight batting practice to driveway bullpen sessions to championship glory.

Today, the coach gently places his son over his shoulder and carries him from his wheelchair to the front seat of his dusty truck.

"We were never much for hugging," Dale Hahn says. "But now I get to hug my son all the time."

The coach once pushed the son to become California's Mr. Baseball, working on his swing, inspiring his hustle and watching him become a powerful outfielder with speed, smarts, a full scholarship to Arizona State and a major league future.

Now, the coach pushes the son's wheelchair across busy streets and over large bumps to a college economics class.

"There were times I would wonder, what's better, being dead or being like this?" Cory Hahn says. "But then I look up and see my dad and think, if he can do it, I can do it."

It has been a year since this former Santa Ana Mater Dei High baseball star broke his neck diving into second base in his third collegiate game, shattering the life of the Southland's brightest baseball star into tiny dark pieces.

Yet while everything has changed, nothing has changed.

Cory Hahn is a C5 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down. He has limited use of his hands and arms. The kid who once led his team to a CIF championship by pitching five perfect innings, making an over-the-shoulder catch and hitting a long home run now battles to eat hamburgers, wash his hair and wheel to class.

"My goals don't take days anymore, they take weeks, they take months," he says.

But, as always, Cory is able to stretch toward those goals from the broad shoulders of the balding guy he calls Pops. The man who always urged him to give full effort by "Spilling your bucket" has met this challenge by overturning his life.

After spending years as his son's baseball coach, Dale Hahn has quit his job as a sales rep to become his son's life coach.

When Cory moved back to the Arizona State campus in January to continue his studies, Dale went with him. While Cory moved into a rental home with three teammates, Dale moved into an extended-stay hotel down the street.

Cory awakens every morning to the sound of his father's key in his bedroom door. Dale shows up at 7 a.m., flicks on the lights, turns on the television, maybe turns on the space heater, and then pulls his son out of bed to begin their day.

Together they dress and shower and prepare Cory, with each day painstakingly bringing a tad more separation for the fiercely independent son. Just the other day, they celebrated that Cory was using his once-lifeless hands to wash his own hair.

"We live for the little victories," Cory says. "We're a team."

Together they drive to campus in Dale's truck, where they go from a street parking spot to Cory's first class, with Cory wheeling himself most of the way. It is a process that makes his shoulders ache and has turned his hands into giant calluses, but he refuses to use a power chair or wheelchair gloves, staring down his new life as he once stared down 90-mph cutting fastballs.

"I see all these college kids running and skating across campus, and then I see Cory just chugging along in his chair, the world moving past him," Dale says. "I feel really bad for him … and I am so, so proud of him."

After classes, together they go to lunch, with Cory able to feed himself only after countless days of practicing with his dad. Their efforts were fueled from the embarrassment Cory said he felt when, eating lunch for the first time with friends, he realized they would have to feed him.

"That devastated me," Cory recalls. "I told my dad, we've got to figure this out, and it was really messy, but we did it."

After lunch, they go to a gym for therapy, and then his father might drop him off at a Sun Devils baseball practice or game before taking him home for the night. Cory will hang out with friends until about 11 p.m., at which point his father returns to his room to lay him into bed and put the television on a timer and slip out with a simple, "Good night, buddy."

"When you're a dad, you're a dad forever," Dale says.

A year ago, forever was about preparing his son to become a millionaire baseball player. Today, forever is about helping him put on his shirt. But it's the same forever, the same commitment, the same, "Dad."

The only thing the Hahns do separately, it seems, is mourn.

Shortly after the accident, Cory hysterically cried through the middle of the night, fighting feelings of terror that he still occasionally feels today.

"I was terrified about the rest of my life," Cory remembers.

At the same time, outside the hospital, walking the long blocks between his hotel and his paralyzed son, Dale would be openly screaming with the same fear.

"I was just mad at the world, shouting all kinds of stuff; I'm sure people around me thought I was crazy," Dale remembers.

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