- Mike Grimala, ESPNHS
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Jason Hahn might not be the best player on the Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) baseball team right now, but he's having the most fun.
The senior second baseman is a part-time player for the Monarchs, the No. 7 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, and he's known more for his hustle and dugout chatter than his stats. Hahn is the consummate glue guy, and that's fitting because baseball has helped hold him together during the past year.
As Hahn grew up, his older brother, Cory, was always the star, the one nicknamed "Superman" for his abilities on the diamond. Cory led Mater Dei to a California Interscholastic Federation sectional championship in 2010 and was drafted by the San Diego Padres a few weeks later, but he passed on the pros to play ball at Arizona State.
Jason was 2 years younger. Although they spent most of their early lives playing baseball, it was never a singular passion for Jason the way it was for Cory. Jason also enjoyed other sports, especially basketball, and his approach to athletics was considerably lighter.
Jason was the comedian; Cory was all about baseball 24/7.
That dynamic changed on Feb. 20, 2011. Playing one of his first games at ASU, Cory suffered a freak injury while diving into second base.
Jason remembers streaming the game online from the family's house in Corona, Calif.
"He was stealing second," Jason said. "I see him dive in, and I see the throw go into center field, but he doesn't get up. I knew something was wrong. I knew that no matter what, Cory would be up and going to third.
"I saw him laying there, not moving, and I started freaking out. I called my mom over, and she started freaking out, too. We saw the ambulance come and take him off the field, and I was just shocked. It was weird to see him just laying there. I couldn't believe it. It was almost like being in a dream."
The diagnosis wasn't good. After emergency surgery, doctors announced that Cory was paralyzed from the chest down.
One devastating play had changed both of their lives.
For Jason, it wasn't easy to accept that Superman wouldn't be able to walk again.
Cory remembers his first conversation with Jason after the accident, when his younger brother visited his hospital room. It was a struggle for Jason.
"It was a really emotional time," Cory said. "I was still recovering from surgery and could only whisper. The minute he started talking, we both kind of broke down."
As difficult as the situation was to accept, it made Jason realize how quickly things can change.
"It just made me think about how fast something can be taken away from you," Jason said. "Things you love can be gone just like that. So you have to love every moment and make the most of every chance you get."
One thing Jason never struggled with was his desire to continue playing baseball. Despite his brother's tragic accident, Jason was determined to continue.
"Never once in my mind did I think about quitting," Jason said. "I love this game too much, and I knew Cory wouldn't want me to quit. It's been difficult at times, but I don't think it was ever an option to give up."
Jason says his brother's accident was in the back of his mind when he took the field for the first time last season. Just the act of striding to the plate or jogging out to his position made him feel uneasy.
"It was pretty weird to be out there running," Jason said. "For a while it was always in my head, thinking about it. When I saw a guy take off to steal second, it made me cringe a little bit. And just getting in the batter's box felt really weird. It was kind of scary for a minute.
"Even today, I still think about him sometimes when I'm on the field. I just have to wash it out and keep going."
Jason overcame his initial apprehension to make the varsity squad last year as a junior. This season he's played a utility role, and he's brought his natural verve to the position.
"His teammates love Jason," said Mater Dei coach Burt Call. "He's got a great sense of humor and he keeps things light, but he's got a good work ethic and he wants the team to have success. He hasn't played a lot, but when he gets in there, he really competes."
That attitude stems from a newfound sense of maturity in the aftermath of Cory's accident. Jason has taken on more responsibility at home, and his relationship with his brother has never been stronger. Where they once shared a love of baseball, they now share much more. Jason helps his brother around the house and drives him to see his friends, and they find themselves talking more than they used to.
"I think our relationship has changed for the better," Jason said. "We used to just talk about baseball, but now we're more best friends. We talk about stuff I'm going through, stuff he's going through. It's my senior year, and he's done that before, so we talk about that. If anything, it's brought us closer."
"Our bond has gotten stronger and stronger," Cory said. "I spend a lot of time with him now. What we have now is greater than just being an older brother and a younger brother."
The bond is apparent when Cory attends Mater Dei games. He recently finished his spring semester at ASU, where he still attends classes, and he was at Mater Dei's first-round win over Rio Mesa (Oxnard, Calif.) on Friday. He says he'll be there again Tuesday to support Jason with the rest of the family as the Monarchs take on Temecula Valley (Temecula, Calif.).
Cory says watching baseball on TV has been difficult since he was paralyzed, but he always enjoys watching his brother play the game they both love.
"It's awesome watching him bounce around out there," Cory said. "Growing up, we were a couple years apart, so we were on different teams. We never really got a chance to see each other play that much. So being able to watch him now, it's so special."
With Mater Dei now in the playoffs, each game could be Jason's last. He doesn't expect to play baseball in college, so his career likely will end when the Monarchs' season ends.
Jason isn't worried about looking too far ahead, however. He has learned to stay in the moment and appreciate doing something he loves.
"No matter what happens, one thing I'll never do is take baseball for granted," Jason said. "Every day, every game could be your last. So I'm just going to cherish every minute and keep a smile on my face. I've learned that from Cory. I wouldn't be the person I am today without him."
Whenever Jason's high school career ends, whether it's with a loss Tuesday or with a CIF championship weeks from now, Cory will support him.
"This isn't something your average teenage kid has to go through," Cory said. "As a brother, I'm proud of how far he's come. He's played his heart out, and that's everything you could ask for. We love each other unconditionally, and we always will."