Same old Jesse Hahn, finally back on the hill

Norwich - An hour before the first pitch Wednesday and there is Fred Hahn walking the concourse at Dodd Stadium. This is not exactly breaking news. Fred Hahn. Attend a baseball game? It's like telling Marcel Marceau he has the right to remain silent.

But this was different. So happily different. All those years of watching everyone else's kid play here in our corner of the world and Fred Hahn finally gets to see his kid this week.

Note that word: finally.

Because it was all there for Jesse Hahn, Fred's son, the former all-state right-hander at Fitch High School. It was all there a few summers ago on Cape Cod when Jesse was throwing in the high 90s, drawing some favorable comparisons to Matt Harvey.

That was until Jesse Hahn needed Tommy John surgery in 2010.

And before it took two years for him to rehabilitate his elbow. And then finally when the elbow healed, Hahn broke his foot in spring training this year.

But there's a line out there that goes, "How long should you try? Until."

This is Jesse Hahn's "until." He's back home this week, a starting pitcher for the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League, an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Hahn was a spectator Wednesday. But he'll start tonight against the Connecticut Tigers, throwing five innings or 70 pitches.

"There were a lot of days when all I could do was come to the field and watch," Jesse Hahn was saying before the game, still the same polite, respectful soul, still shaped like 6 o'clock. "The first game I came back to pitch this year was awesome."

Hahn, on a pitch count all season, is 0-2 with a 4.22 earned run average, 31 strikeouts in 32 innings. He's back to throwing in the mid 90s. Now for the best news: He's healthy.

"I've been in this game a long time. I've been on the disabled list, though not as long as Jesse. I know how hard it is," said Hudson Valley manager Jared Sandberg, a former third baseman for the Rays. "For Jesse to get up here is huge, just from the mental standpoint. He's stayed healthy, which is the most positive thing.

"He shows the same fastball as before surgery," Sandberg said. "His secondary pitches are coming around. His curveball is a plus pitch. His change is coming around. If he stays healthy, he's got the ability to be a major league pitcher. He's got a good body type. And he's already been humbled."

For two years. And then with an aching foot. But Hahn said Wednesday, "even though there were times my elbow hurt so much during rehab, it felt like I tore it again, I knew somehow, some way I'd get through."

Maybe because his childhood was so awash in baseball. With Fred. Little League, high school, even watching the old Navigators at Dodd Stadium. It would never change with Fred Hahn, always at the games with a Dunkin' Donuts coffee and a special Yankee/Virginia Tech cap, specially made when the Yanks played an exhibition game in Blacksburg, a symbol of Fred's two favorite teams.

"Having my dad here to see me is just awesome," Jesse Hahn said. "He never missed one of my games. Never. Football, basketball, baseball. But I've been away for a while and he doesn't get to see me as much."

He will tonight with what might be close to 100 friends.

"It might be all of Groton and New London," Jesse Hahn said.

That fits. Because Hahn still carries Fitch with him, joking that being home and all, he should ask old catchers Josh Valdez or Brandon Clark to catch him tonight.

Hahn was part of the 2005 Class LL championship team that - honestly - might be the most athletically talented baseball team in Connecticut history. To wit:

The pitchers: Harvey (with the Mets), Hahn and Eric Korteweg (played at UConn). The hitters: Todd Doyle (played professional basketball in Europe), Justin Walz (record-setting quarterback at Western New England); Matt Browning (made it to Double-A) and then the best hitter of then all, Brian McGugan.

"I'd say the guy that helped me most was Matt Harvey," Hahn said. "He was such a polished pitcher. I'd watch how he went about things. It was amazing being around a group of guys who were so athletic and so into performing well. It's rare to see that many athletes go somewhere off one team around here."

It didn't take Fred Hahn long to spot his son standing just outside the visitors' clubhouse Wednesday. Jesse Hahn approached his dad with a grin and stuck out his hand.

"You'll have to do better than that," Fred said, throwing his arms around his son.

Been a long time coming.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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