Since the age of 4, there is nothing Jon-Michael Hattabaugh has wanted to do more than play the game of baseball, and after a 19-year career, the senior is ready to graduate and is excited to see will come next.
“It’s been a good four years,” Hattabaugh said. “Part of me is ready to move on and start my life, but I’m not sure what I want to do yet.”
Hattabaugh is not quite ready to let go of the game, as he is thinking about trying out for Major League teams during the summer if he is not drafted.
Continuing with baseball is something not only his family supports, but he is also getting encouragement from University of La Verne head coach Scott Winterburn.
“He’s getting better right now, as we speak,” Winterburn said. “If he gets his foot in the door he’ll be fine.”
However five years ago playing professional baseball or even college baseball seemed impossible for Hattabaugh.
During his senior year at Bishop Amat High School in Covina, while pitching in front of Division I schools such as Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine, Hattabaugh suffered a spiral fracture in the humerus of his pitching arm.
“I didn’t think I was going to play again,” Hattabaugh said. “All I kept thinking was, ‘Your career is over and I can’t believe that just happened.’”
Hattabaugh said that coming back too soon from an appendectomy earlier that season did not help his new injury.
With a devastating injury to his arm, Division I schools were not willing to take a chance on Hattabaugh and they decided not to recruit him.
Instead of moping around thinking that his life was over, Hattabaugh decided to take a year off and refocused on getting his arm healthy enough to pitch again.
“Taking a year off really helped,” Hattabaugh said. “People always say going through things builds character, and it really does.”
When he felt ready enough to start playing again, La Verne began the recruiting process in an unconventional way by head coach Winterburn.
“I drove through the In-N-Out, where he was working, and I asked him, ‘Are you going to play for me or not?’” Winterburn said.
Hattabaugh said that he is thankful for what the university and Winterburn have given to him.
“In 25 years of baseball, he’s the most natural, all-around leader I have ever had,” Winterburn said. “I’m going to measure future leaders against him.”
“He’s a great leader,” teammate David Contreras said. “He can light a fire in these guys. When he talks everyone’s quiet and they listen.”
However, Hattabaugh said that he wants to be remembered by more than what he did on the baseball field.
“[I don’t want to be remembered] by my stats because who’s going to remember that one home run I hit,” Hattabaugh said.
“I want people to remember that I was a good person. I try to present myself as more than a baseball player and I want them to remember the relationships we had,” Hattabaugh added.
One of the closest relationships Hattabaugh had was with fellow senior catcher Mike Surina.
“We didn’t get along at first,” Hattabaugh said. “Now he’s one of my best friends. He always tells me, ‘Don’t worry man, in 50 years we’re going to be sitting on a porch somewhere asking our wives for more beer.’”
Even though going to a Division I school would have opened up many more opportunities for Hattabaugh, he said that going to the University of La Verne turned out to be a great experience.
“Going D-I didn’t work out, but in the long run it did,” Hattabaugh said.
“I wouldn’t trade a D-I for the people or things I’ve experienced here,” he added.
“By far the coolest thing I’ve experienced here is when we won the [SCIAC] championship my sophomore year,” Hattabaugh said. “That will forever be engrained in my mind.”
Hattabaugh is graduating with a degree in sociology and is considering applying to graduate schools in the fall.
Even if he does not know exactly what is in store for him, Hattabaugh is excited to see what his future holds.
“I just want to be successful in whatever I do,” Hattabaugh said. “Whether it’s going to graduate school or playing baseball. Either way it’s going to be good.”
Elsie Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.