PHOENIX – For many baseball fans, there is no sweeter sound to prepare for spring training than that of timber sending tightly stitched leather orbs into the arid desert atmosphere.
Combine the universal love of the long ball with a notable cause, and you have the inaugural Dingers in the Desert home run derby charity event, held Saturday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The event, which raised $10,000, benefited Project 34, an organization that supports people whose lives have been altered by spinal cord injuries.
It was co-founded by former Arizona State player Cory Hahn, who now is coordinator of pro scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks, along with his former ASU teammate and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams.
Hahn’s life was changed eight years ago when he was playing for the Sun Devils on what should have been a routine headfirst slide into second base. It was the kind of slide he had made hundreds of times before.
But a slightly errant throw pulled the opposing second baseman off the bag and into the path of Hahn, who collided with the infielder’s knee.
The collision severed the C-5 vertebrae in Hahn’s neck, paralyzing him from the chest down. Hahn was determined to return to ASU and graduate and joined the Diamondbacks as the 34th selection in the 2015 draft in honor of the number he wore as a Sun Devil. It has since been named the “Cory Hahn 34th pick.”
“Obviously, his life changed eight years ago,” Trevor Williams said. “So did mine.”
Williams and Hahn had been teammates and remain close friends. Williams changed his number to 34 in the offseason to honor Hahn.
“I hope that when you guys are at this event and see what’s going on and seeing how we can help people who have spinal cord injuries, you can see the tangible evidence what we’re doing to help these communities because they deserve it,” Williams said. “And I’m inspired by Cory and every other person I’ve come in contact with, with spinal cord injuries.”
In addition to his duties with the Diamondbacks, Hahn aims to assist others who have suffered spinal cord injuries through Project 34.
“There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have the necessary resources, medical supplies and things of that nature,” Hahn said. “Our goal is to be that bridge … to provide as much as we can to allow those living with spinal injuries to chase their dreams, to make a recovery, to have a full life and to be independent.”
Approximately 17,700 people in the United States sustain a spinal cord injury each year, reports the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. Most come from auto accidents, falls, violence and sports related accidents. The average lifetime costs that follow, from health care and living expenses, can reach as high as $4.8 million.
Phoenix Municipal Stadium served as the setting for a serious display of power at the plate. The stadium’s scoreboard, a protective shield over the right field wall, the bullpen, a palm tree and even the turf beyond the outfield wall might not be the same after the pounding.
The event featured three home run events: a youth division, a head-to-head competition featuring ASU players Spencer Torkelson and Carter Andrete, and a derby starring professional players.
Torkelson produced some of the longest, loudest shots of the day.
Bobby Dalbec, in the Boston Red Sox organization, and D.J. Peterson, with the Chicago White Sox, bashed their way into the second round. ASU alum Drew Stankiewicz (Phillies) and Nick Zammarelli (Mariners), who destroyed just about everything in right field, also eased their way to the semifinals. Dalbec and Peterson hit the most and earned spots in the final.
The minute-and-a-half final round had some drama, but when the last shot was tallied, Dalbec hit more than anyone else, and benefited Project 34 in the process.