08/18/2014

Escape hatch

In September, 2003, a small plane crashed in northeast Indiana, taking the lives of a mother, her 5-year old son and 11-year old daughter. The woman’s husband and 8-year old son were the sole survivors. The child eventually set a goal to become a star high school basketball player in the Hoosier State, a place known for that. He also developed an ambition to play basketball for the University of Michigan.

On June 15, 2011, Austin Hatch, with father Stephen at his side, moved a Big Ten step closer to making that dream a reality when he accepted an offer to play basketball for John Beilein and the Wolverines. Hatch had indeed become a 6′-6″ phenom as a sophomore at Fort Wayne Canterbury High School, averaging 23 points and nine rebounds.

Nine days later, Austin Hatch was involved in a second plane crash and this time his father, the pilot, and step-mother were killed. The son was placed in a drug-induced coma for eight weeks. When Austin Hatch awoke, he not only had to cope emotionally with the loss of his entire remaining immediate family, but brain damage and other injuries meant the talented athlete had to relearn to walk, to talk, even to eat.

There isn’t a soul alive who would have blamed Austin Hatch for dialing back his goals. But the young man didn’t. He struggled through painful and difficult rehabilitation, determined to return to the basketball court.

Against tremendous odds, he did just that — in California, where he was living with relatives. If you’re ready for a lump-in-your-throat moment today, watch and listen to this video of the first shot Austin Hatch attempted for his new high school team.

John Beilein and the University of Michigan upheld their scholarship offer to Austin Hatch. This summer, Austin joined the Michigan basketball program and will enroll as a freshman in the fall. Austin Hatch’s remarkable, improbable journey has been a well reported national story for a couple years.

Why mention it here, now?

Austin Hatch played three minutes in a game this weekend wearing the University of Michigan uniform. Afterward, he was asked to lead the team in “The Victors.”

*****

The Cincinnati Reds will wake up this afternoon in the shadow of the arch in St. Louis.

And tonight they’ll face the Cardinals in a game that marks the beginning of the end of the season — or the opposite. It kicks off the week to which we’ve all been pointing. Three games with St. Louis and four with Atlanta, then the monthlong cage match with the rest of the NL Central.

It hasn’t been announced officially, but Brandon Phillips should return from the disabled list today and rejoin the Reds. The second baseman injured his left thumb on July 9 playing against the Cubs. Initial estimates placed his return at 8-12 weeks. After surgery to repair the torn ligament, doctors shortened the total recovery time to six weeks. Today marks just over five-and-a-half weeks since he dove for dat ground ball at Great American Ball Park.

The team has gone 12-20 since both he and Joey Votto were unavailable.

*****

Wow. Yesterday was a long, painful day. Marty Brennaman described it aptly as “brutal.” The Terrible Reds Offense™ hit for a change, the starters pitched well enough in the high altitude, yet the bullpen utterly collapsed. And to the list of injuries, you can add Homer Bailey. Seems like it’s always something with these Reds.

But keep this record in mind:

On May 27, the Reds lost to the Dodgers and Zack Grienke, their fourth defeat in a row. On May 28, they beat Clayton Kershaw.

On May 29, the Reds were humiliated by Josh Collmenter — Josh Collmenter — in the Arizona desert. They won six of their next nine.

On June 20, the Reds jumped out to an 8-0 lead against Toronto, only to watch the bullpen collapse and lose 14-9. It was a devastating defeat. No way to recover. Yet, the Reds not only won 11-1 the next night (with Mike Leake shutting down the powerful Blue Jays), but the Reds proceeded to play their best ball of the year, winning eight of nine.

On July 2, the lowly San Diego Padres completed a three-game sweep of the Reds. Then Cincinnati went 8-3, winning series over the Brewers and Pirates before the All-Star game.

The Reds began the season 3-8 and at the All-Star break, with all the injuries, somehow stood 51-44.

*****

These previous comebacks don’t mean the Reds can do it again versus St. Louis and Atlanta, in the week to which we’ve all been pointing. BP returns but Homer Bailey is on the shelf and Alfredo Simon might as well be. There’s more Dylan Axelrod to come later this week and someone else who we can’t even name will pitch in the opener against the Braves. (Has anyone checked to see if Mo’ne Davis is free on Thursday?)

But determination, resilience and surprise against the odds — think Austin Hatch — is a sports narrative that has not been lost this year on Bryan Price’s team. Obviously, being swept in a baseball doubleheader or putting a pitcher on the disabled list doesn’t compare to the adversity and loss the young basketball player has had to overcome.

Every time we’ve taken the 2014 Reds for goners, each moment we’ve thought their fate was sealed, Bryan Price’s team has found a way to escape.

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

Join the conversation! 18 Comments

  1. Way to be positive, Steve! (I like it). That’s a terrific inspirational story about Austin Hatch. I don’t know if the Reds have anything left or not, sometimes you give all you have and it’s not enough. But they are my team and I like these guys and will keep rooting for them while I see how it all plays out. However it plays out this season, they will continue to be my team next season and the next and the next……….

  2. A very inspiring post. A Reds fanatic, like we all are, never gives up hope.

  3. With the understanding that this is a Reds fan site, and I love the job you guys do, relating Austin Hatch’s situation to this Reds season seems like quite a stretch.

    • That’s a fair point. You probably don’t know this, but I worked for almost twenty years at the University of Michigan and remain a true Blue fan. I’ve followed the Austin Hatch story closely for years and take great pride that Michigan kept its faith with him. I didn’t use it lightly and acknowledged in the post the situations were vastly different. I wanted to find a way to tell his story on the site (almost did yesterday) but when I decided to write a “keep the faith” post this morning, it seemed like a reasonable connection. Don’t underestimate the importance of determination, even on professional sports teams.

      • John Beilein is one of the best coaches/men in the college coaching business anywhere. If not the best today. He’ll see to it that Austin Hatch grows into a very good man, aside from basketball. John Beilein is the best.
        Bryan Price is not far along enough in his head coaching career to be compared to Beilein, but there are some similarities that bode well for Price. The Reds front office, besides shuttling players back and forth from Louisville, really has done nothing to help out Price this season.

      • You make your case, Steve, and I don’t believe that it’s a stretch. Thanks for the expanded look at the Reds’ season and the point it makes about the team’s grit (word choice intentional).

  4. A lot of angst has been wrought over the past 24 hours in Reds Land. I suppose the Old Cossack less angst than some since I saw the 2014 season in a downward spiral for some time. Even with nmy head telling my heart, ‘I told you so’, I watched every inning of both games yesterday and I will watch every inning of the upcoming series with the Birds with hope and anticipation. The Old Cossack’s heart will always win out over the Old Cossack’s head and even after it’s a done deal, I will still follow every game hoping to glimpse that gliimer of hope for next season. I have been doing this for 50 some odd years and I’m simply too old and too set in my ways to change.

    Last season, the Old Cossack went ‘all in’ with season tickets for the first time and a real hope and expectation for a deep playoff run with a reasonable shot at the world series. That season was really disappointing, but then I was looking for those positives for this season immediately after the disappointing 2014 season concluded. The 2014 starter with the same hope but lower expectations, but this season ain’t over yet my dear fat lady.

    • Start saving for those 2015 season tickets.
      Its going to be “Back To The Future IV: 2015 All In Again.”

      • Yes, 2015 will be interesting as the offseason develops…once 2014 reaches its conclusion, hopefully with a big run to the playoffs of course. I would like nothing better than to have that same feeling at the start of 2015 that I had to start the 2013 season.

  5. I have only made one post previous to this one. Before reading your most recent post I had you pegged as a mostly bitter after the fact second guesser and not a true Reds fan. I now see how wrong I have been, because like you, I always hold out the possibility of a streak or prolonged run that just might sneak us into the playoffs or at least back to relevance. Please accept my apologies and Go Reds!

  6. Great article, Steve. A truly inspiring story and an observation about the 2014 Reds that I’ve noticed: they’re at their best when they’re down and have been counted out.

    I’ve kept that in mind through hard times, but last night felt for the first time that the “relevant” part of the season was over. Right now I’m in watch and see mode, not wanting to get teased again but hopeful that I was wrong.

    • Pretty much share your feelings, Pinson. However, getting teased might salvage the season in more ways than one, no?

  7. it’s nice to see BP in the lineup. Except for first base, where Pena is playing instead of Votto, the lineup is the one that was intended at the beginning of the season. Nice to see “only” one player missing, albeit a key one, haven’t seen that for a while.

  8. Nice story about Austin. But until the Reds get out of their drug-induced coma, I don’t see much reason for hope.

  9. Great post, Steve.

  10. Great post Steve!!! Like yourself I’m a diehard M fan!!! Coach B is a class act all the way!!!! More coaches need to model themselves after him. To Mr. Hatch your an amazing human being for going through what you have and go through it all and continued your dreams of playing b-ball for M!!! Go Blue!!!

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About Steve Mancuso

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky's Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve's thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

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