College Sports

San Luis Obispo Blues veteran RJ Hassey embracing return from Tommy John surgery

San Luis Obispo Blues infielder RJ Hassey warms up before a game against Walnut Creek on Friday at SLO Stadium.
San Luis Obispo Blues infielder RJ Hassey warms up before a game against Walnut Creek on Friday at SLO Stadium.

Standing near the fence on a picturesque afternoon at Mission Prep High School, RJ Hassey grabs a neon green resistance band and begins his warm-up routine.

It was exactly a year ago Wednesday that Hassey underwent Tommy John surgery to repair the overused tendon in his right elbow. Though the procedure is considered among the most successful in sports medicine, Hassey prefers to err on the side of caution as he makes his way back to full strength.

He diligently goes through a series of stretches and light movements well before the rest of his San Luis Obispo Blues teammates take the field for practice. Hassey has played for the Blues — who kicked off their season last weekend and began California Collegiate League play Friday with a three-game home stand against the Walnut Creek Crawdads — off and on since he graduated from San Luis Obispo High in 2013, this summer marking his fourth stint with the program.

“I’m so glad to be back,” Hassey said, fighting back a smile.

Following a standout prep career in which he earned first-team all-county honors as a senior, Hassey stayed local to play for Bob Miller at Cuesta College.

He played in 68 games for the Cougars and, despite nagging elbow pain as a sophomore, Hassey posted a .290 average with 42 hits, 21 RBI and a team-high nine doubles in 2015.

Not long after his sophomore season, Hassey opted to go under the knife with the hopes of coming back stronger and prolonging his baseball career. He played for the Blues during the two weeks leading up to surgery — primarily as a designated hitter — even playing a game the night before the procedure.

Hassey went through months of rehab and served as an assistant at Cuesta this spring, working with the catchers and coaching first base for a team that reached the second round of the CCCAA playoffs.

“I kind of had to bet on myself to have the surgery to begin with,” said the 6-foot, 195-pound Hassey. “Of course, there are some hard days, some hard weeks where you’re just really doubting. I’m one of those guys also where, I made the decision to get this surgery, I’m not gonna do the ‘what-ifs.’ 

Hassey’s goal is to move on to a four-year school in the fall, and he hopes a full summer season with the Blues will prove to college coaches he’s worth a scholarship offer.

Through the opening week, Hassey appears ready.

He started at catcher in three of San Luis Obispo’s four wins over the Santa Maria Packers, and went a combined 6 for 11 (.545 average) with three runs, nine RBI and one double. The nine runs Hassey has driven in lead the team and rank second in the CCL.

As one of three catchers listed on the Blues’ roster, Hassey knows the competition for playing time will increase as the summer progresses.

San Luis Obispo is still awaiting the arrival of 10 players whose college teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament, among them catchers Brent Diaz of Louisiana Tech and Collin Theroux of Oklahoma State.

Hassey’s confidence has rarely wavered on his way back to the sport he loves. The brief detour into coaching “just feeds your hunger even more” to return to full strength, Hassey said.

“I trusted my abilities as a baseball player,” he added. “There’s obviously some times throughout the process where you are doubting. Am I going to come back healthy? It’s not a 100-percent surgery, you know.

“I never really had that thought that if I come back healthy, that I won’t have somewhere to play.”

For now, Hassey’s right at home with the Blues.

Upcoming SLO Blues games

Saturday 6 p.m., vs. Walnut Creek, Sinsheimer Stadium

Sunday 1 p.m., vs. Walnut Creek, Sinsheimer Stadium