The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

June 2, 2010

Jason Hamm is happy to be back

DANVILLE — Jason Hamm cannot wait for the Danville Dans season opener on Thursday.

That’s because Hamm has spent the past four months watching his St. Leo University Lions while he redshirted and recovered from a major knee injury.

Hamm, who played for the Dans last year, played in just two games for the Lions this spring before suffering his season-ending injury.

“As soon as I found out that I was going to redshirt, I called up Ms. Jeanie Cooke and asked her if I could come back this summer,’’ said Hamm. “I had a great time last year and I really improved a lot. I’ve been looking forward to coming back.’’

Hamm is only eligible to play for the Dans because of his medical redshirt. Players in summer collegiate baseball leagues are required to have eligibility remaining to participate.

The senior catcher from Tampa, Fla., batted .216 last summer with the Dans and he finished the year with a .985 field percentage.

“I think my experience from last year will help a lot,’’ Hamm said. “I know the league. I know a lot of the players and the coaches. And, I know the travel and the routine.’’

Also coming back to the Dans this summer from St. Leo is right-handed pitcher Matt Smith.

“I hate it. We have to deal with him again,’’ Smith joked. “Actually, I’m glad to have him. I did well here with him last year.

“Having a solid catcher is what a pitcher needs to succeed.’’

Smith also points out that Smith is very natural leader for both St. Leo next year and the Dans this summer.

“He is one of those catchers that you can depend on to be there for you in every game,’’ Smith said. “It was tough losing him this spring. I had him the first game and I pitched really well.

“I was shook up the next few starts with a different catcher.’’

And sitting on the bench wasn’t a normal feeling for Hamm.

“It was awful. I hate sitting there and watching a game,’’ he said. “I’ve been a starter every year that I’ve been at St. Leo, and sitting there and watching is not fun.

“But, I did get a new perspective on the game. I learned how to be a better leader and I was able to help our backup catcher during the season.’’

While Hamm spent time this spring being a coach, he is extremely excited to return to the role of a student this summer under Danville Dans first-year manager Steve Bieser, a former Major League catcher with the New York Mets.

“I was lovin’ that when I saw it on the Danville Dans blog,’’ Hamm said. “We didn’t really have a catching guy last year. Coach Pete (Paciorek) is a great hitting coach and he helped me a lot, but having a catching guy should help me get better with my defensive game.

“You can only get better working with a guy that has been at the highest level of the game.’’

Hamm and Smith are two of six players returning this summer for the Dans. Joining them are pitchers Donovan Drake (former DACC standout), Aaron Lambrix and Ryan Livingston along with catcher Austin Green.

The Danville Dans season opener at Danville Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday against the Dubois Bombers.

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