Ryan Duffy and Taylor Hashman: Local baseball stars recovering from tragedies

— The lives of Taylor Hashman and Ryan Duffy have been intertwined since they played against each other as little league all-stars in Naples.

Playing for rival high schools, Duffy was a first team all-state selection at Barron Collier as a senior in 2005, while Hashman accomplished the same feat as a senior at Naples High in 2006. Duffy was named the Naples Daily News Baseball Player of the Year his senior season, while Hashman won the award the next year.

The rivalry continued into college. Duffy starred at Mississippi State, and Hashman, after being a junior college All-American at Manatee Community College, played his final two years at Mississippi.

The lives of the former stars have paralleled each other since they were young, but the connection took an eerie and unexpected twist last summer. Just 14 days apart, the rivals turned friends suffered traumatic injuries that left them lying in separate hospital beds 1,000 miles apart.

While Duffy likely will never walk again, Hashman counts his blessings that he was luckier than his good friend.

Devastating injuries

On July 31 outside of his apartment in Oxford, Miss., near the Ole Miss campus, Hashman was punched by a man he was trying to get to leave the building. He fell to the ground and fractured his skull. The impact caused his brain to swell, which forced doctors at a Memphis hospital to put Hashman in a medically induced coma for two weeks.

Just 14 days later, Duffy was on a trip to Key West with friends when he dove off a pier at his hotel. He hit the ground in the shallow water and broke his neck. He was in the hospital for four months.

With Hashman's head injury, it was unclear if there would be permanent brain damage. The prognosis for Duffy was more clear, and much more devastating. The former Cougars star likely would be paralyzed from the neck down the rest of his life.

“(Duffy) got hurt the day I woke up (out of the coma),” Hashman said. “It's crazy that this happens to me, then happens to him two weeks later. It makes me feel horrible.”

Both faced long roads to rehabilitation. Duffy had to learn to talk while being hooked to a ventilator. He also had to learn to power his motorized wheelchair by blowing through a straw.

Hashman lost the use of his right side while in the hospital. For him, rehab meant regaining function and strength in his right arm. He was able to walk out of the hospital on his own just a month after his attack.

Rehab has gone well for Hashman. After relearning to do tasks with his right hand, he hit the gym. Hashman is back up to 190 pounds, still short of his playing weight of 210.

Hashman is back in Oxford working with Ole Miss trainers, getting ready for a run at a career in professional baseball. He went undrafted in 2010 following his senior year with the Rebels, but he's headed to Florence, Ky., on May 2 for a tryout with the independent Frontier League.

“That shows you the will of the kid, what kind of worker he is and how committed he is,” Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco said of his former player. “There was a time when he was in the hospital that it's fair to say we weren't sure if he'd make it or not. It's a miracle.”

Hashman's accused assailant is due in court July 20 on charges of simple assault. Duffy and his family are suing the Reach Resort and Spa in Key West for failing to warn people about the dangerous pier.

Rivals with respect

It was just three months removed from the last time Hashman and Duffy shared the field together when they were injured.

Ole Miss played a series at Mississippi State's Dudy Noble field in early May 2010. Duffy, normally a catcher, played left field, the same position as Hashman. Hashman had four runs batted in that day, and hit two home runs in the series.

“They were both in left field, and they were battling at the plate, too,” said Cathy Duffy, Ryan's mother. “They were both good hitters. Taylor had a great game.”

Despite playing for rival teams almost since Hashman moved to Naples in third grade, the two became good friends in high school. They worked out together at Naples High over breaks from college, and drove together to try out with the Fort Myers Miracle last summer.

“It was funny to watch those two,” said Kevin Duffy, Ryan's father. “Baseball isn't like football. When the game is over, the guys are buddies. It's not a blood-and-guts rivalry. I love baseball because you don't have to hate the other guy.”

Hashman and Duffy hung out together quite often in high school and always respected one another on the field.

“He's a great guy,” Ryan Duffy said of Hashman. “We always followed each other and supported each other, probably more in college. He's a heck of a ball player. He can do it all.”

Hashman recalls one of the first times he played against Duffy in college. Duffy came in the game as a pinch hitter and sent a towering shot over the outfield fence.

“It was legit,” Hashman said of the home run. “I was telling everyone on my team, 'I know that dude!'”

Rallying for support

Duffy and Hashman became good friends in part because of their similar personalities. Both are outgoing, friendly and like to make people smile -- qualities that made them leaders on their baseball teams.

Both were popular players on their college teams, which meant an outpouring of support when they were injured. Both benefited from the fundraising of loyal friends and teammates.

At Ole Miss, the Rebels did the Dash For Hash 5-kilometer run that saw more than 500 people participate. Mississippi State had the Do It For Duffy 5K, while family friends raised more than $2,000 “Running For Ryan” at the Naples Daily News Half Marathon in January. Former Barron Collier classmates of Duffy's set up a charity softball tournament this winter.

Support for the injured stars came from all over their former campuses, especially at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs sold Do It For Duffy wristbands to raise money. The bands skyrocketed in popularity when football coach Dan Mullen wore one on the sidelines this past season.

Impact Team Sports in Naples has also sold the Do It For Duffy wristbands at events, including some Barron Collier athletic contests.

“You never know how many people really care about you until something like this happens,” Duffy said. “It was really eye-opening. It was really nice to see how many people wanted to help out.”

Bouncing back

While Duffy is reminded of his accident every day he spends confined to a bed or wheelchair, hooked to a ventilator, Hashman has few physical reminders of his injury.

There is a scar that runs along the right side of his head from where doctors removed parts of his skull to relieve pressure on his swelling brain. Doctors later inserted a titanium plate into his skull. Hashman said it's hard to see the scar when his hair grows out.

Hashman has worked on regaining his strength, and said his right hand is back to about 100 percent mobility. Now his focus is getting back into shape for baseball.

“He looks pretty good,” Naples High coach Rick Turner said. “He almost looks like himself again. He's a strong kid, and it looks like he's rebounded well.”

Hashman realizes how tough it will be to salvage a baseball career after such a serious accident, but his former coaches don't put it past him.

“It's a difficult sport to take a leave of absence from,” Bianco, the Rebels coach, said. “To try to get back physically everything you lost, then on top of that pick up your baseball skills -- it's a tough road for anyone. To go through what he went through, it's doubly so. But if anybody can do it, Taylor can.”

Hashman still thinks of his old friend Duffy, and wishes the two could go at it on the diamond once again. When he thinks of the struggles Duffy is in for the rest of his life, it makes Hashman realize how fortunate he is.

“When I heard about (Duffy), I just started thinking, 'How am I doing this -- walking and everything's fine?'” Hashman said. “The fact that I'm even walking, much less going to try out (for the Frontier League), it's just unbelievable.”

Connect with Adam Fisher at www.naplesnews.com/staff/adam_fisher.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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