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He’s the secret weapon of Corona del Mar baseball

By Mark Whicker - OC Register, 05/16/17, 10:30AM PDT


CORONA DEL MAR — They all have nine hitters and a pitcher in the Pacific Coast League. Corona del Mar High won the title because it had better ones.

The Sea Kings also had an 11th man.

Steven Hachigian wants to be a general manager in the major leagues. Most GMs started by sitting on metal benches at some high school field, aiming a radar gun at a pitcher who had a .001 percent chance of getting there.

Hachigian is way beyond that. He scouts the teams on the Sea Kings’ schedule. He charts every pitch, by accuracy and category. He maps every fair ball. He devises “spray charts,” for defensive positioning.

He tracks the other coaches, when they call the hit-and-run, when they pick off or ask for a steal, when they’re overcoaching, when they let something slip.

He has it written all down, “the old-fashioned way” as he says, and collates it and puts a cover sheet on it, and gives it to Coach John Emme.

Hachigian is a senior and will attend Long Beach State next year (attention, Coach Troy Buckley).

When he was a freshman he knew he had found his calling. He gave Emme a report against Northwood, and all the stuff came true.

“You got us nine outs today,” Emme told him. Which is pretty good in a game where you only need 21.

“I’ll never forget that,” Steven said. “I was just glad I could do something to help us win.”

The other thing about Steven Hachigian is that he has cerebral palsy.

He is in a wheelchair. His dad Mark takes care of the reports. His aide Chris Pokracki urged him to get involved with the baseball program because Steven knew every seam of the game.

When Hachigian met Emme, he asked him if he’d ever coached a major league player. Emme said he had been an assistant at Redondo when Morgan Ensberg came through, on his way to USC and an eight-year, 110-homer career in the majors.

“All of a sudden Steve is rattling off these stats, talking about the home run Morgan hit in the (2005) World Series,” Emme said. “I said, holy smokes.”

But Hachigian is not some Rain Man. Sure, he picks out a fantasy team for his brother Paul, who is at USC. He also sees things in players and teams that no dilettante would notice.

“When we approached Coach Emme and asked if he could find a place for Steven,” Mark Hachigian said, “we thought maybe he’d wind up being equipment manager or something.”

“I was too knowledgeable for that,” Steven said.

He has an index card on each player in the league. Some of his reports are his own impressions. Maybe the catcher can’t throw, but the right fielder can. He doesn’t have a radar gun but sometimes peeks at the ones that college or pro scouts bring.

“Before I did this I watched a lot of major league baseball,” he said. “Then I’d see a high school pitcher throw 92 and I’d say, that’s not so good. I had to realize that was pretty good for high school.”

The Hachigians, traveling in a camper, have seen at least one game in every major league city. Steven also became interested in Matt Duffy, the Long Beach State infielder who made it to the Giants and now plays for Tampa Bay. The family befriended Duffy’s dad and even drove to Everett, Wash. to see him play rookie ball.

How did it start? It didn’t. It was just there.

“He played Challenger baseball for a while,” said Monique, his mom. “On that level they just run around the bases and they’re not really concerned about whether you’re safe or not. Steven would say, ‘No, that guy should be out.’ It was always very serious with him.

“For a special needs child, it’s really important to find something he’s passionate about. This has been such a blessing.”

After a couple of years, parents of CdM’s rivals began to catch on. They’d see him coming and say, “I guess you want our lineup today.”

Steven’s senior project at CdM was on sabremetrics, and how they fit into the grand scheme. “It was about the best way to evaluate players, using analytics and also the human side of the game,” he said.

In February he took an internship with the Angels’ baseball-operations department and saw how it set up its minor league and scouting apparatus. That, of course, was pure catnip.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Steven said. “I’ve gotten better on pitch recognition. Those first games, I was all over the place. Sometimes I’d get frustrated when the coach would take a pitcher out when I was just getting a read on him.

“And there are games when I’m scouting both teams. That can be overwhelming. You can’t relax for a second. I hear people say baseball is slow and boring. But, really, there’s a whole lot going on with every pitch.”

Emme is accustomed to the cycle of high school life but he admits he doesn’t know how he’ll replace his 11th man. “I’ve created a monster,” he said.

“I just want to thank Coach for helping me find my niche,” Steven said.

We’ll see if baseball does, too.