Wednesday night's All-Star Lowsman Banquet offered plenty of laughs, but there was a serious moment before the dinner began.
In the VIP room at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, a 19-year-old entered in a wheelchair to mingle with the Hall of Famers, pro athletes, businessmen and Mr. Irrelevant. Cory Hahn called it a big honor to be at the event and to represent Goodwill, and its fitness center in Orange County.
Irrelevant Week's motto has been to do something nice for someone for no reason. It's the cornerstone thought for the weeklong celebration of the last pick of the NFL Draft. During the past 36 years, Irrelevant Week has also raised money for charity. This year its focus is on Goodwill.
In the VIP room there were several men who have achieved great feats in sports. Hahn always wanted to inspire others with the way he played baseball, he said. He played the game with a lot of hustle and a lot of heart while at Mater Dei High. At Arizona State, he suffered a severe neck injury when sliding into second base during a game in February.
Hahn says he now inspires different people in a different light.
"This has been a tremendous opportunity from a bad experience," Hahn said. "Seeing that I can inspire people in this way has been phenomenal."
Hahn did about three interviews before the dinner and never looked bummed about it. He talked about his life and how much it has changed.
"Overall my attitude has been very well," Hahn said. "It's been a crazy couple of months, that's for sure.
"I kind of look at it like baseball. In baseball, you always have to keep a positive attitude because there are some good days and some bad days. I just have to stay positive. If you keep that positive attitude you're going to get better and better. Plus, I have had great support. My family and my friends have really helped."
Most of Hahn's days are spent rehabbing. He moved back to California and is staying with his parents in Corona, he said. He spends at least five days a week rehabbing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"It's like a job, but it's getting me better and I'll do whatever it takes to get better," Hahn said.
Hahn served as a reminder of where some of the money from Irrelevant Week goes. But he was also there to have fun. He was thrilled to shake hands with Cheta Ozougwu, Mr. Irrelevant XXXVI. And he was happy to take in the laughs along with everyone else at the dinner.
Hahn was 14-1 with an 0.89 earned-run average and hit .411 with 10 home runs to lead Mater Dei to the CIF Southern Section Division I crown in 2010.
Other notes from Irrelevant Week, which ended Thursday:
It was absolutely refreshing to see Ozougwu during his visit at the NFL Network studio in Culver City Tuesday. He had visited Disneyland before going to the studio but at NFL Network he was like a kid at Disneyland.
Sometimes purity in sports can't be seen on the pro level. Ozougwu showed his love for the game when he stepped on to the demo field at the studio. It's a small patch of artificial turf that looks like a football field.
Ozougwu asked a network producer, Marcus Smith, to film him with his camera phone as he talked about his visit at NFL Network. I could've sworn I heard Ozougwu get choked up because he was so overwhelmed with joy. It was one of those moments that signified he is a pro athlete. It was special to see.
I approached Casey Matthews the linebacker out of Oregon Wednesday night. Only I called him "Clay," when I introduced myself. He said it happens often, so I didn't feel too bad. Casey's older brother, Clay Matthews III, won the Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers. He didn't make an appearance, instead Casey was there with his father Clay Jr. and grandfather, Clay Sr., who played football with Paul Salata for the San Francisco 49ers in 1950. Salata is the founder of Irrelevant Week.
Casey told me he has been working out, trying to stay in shape to be ready if the lockout is lifted on the NFL. He was honest with me about attending the banquet.
"I was kind of forced into coming," Casey said. "My grandpa played with Salata. My dad was going and he made me go. And I'm here just tagging along."
I asked him about Clay III.
"He doesn't do these kinds of things," Casey said.
I suggested to Casey that maybe Clay III is out somewhere showing off that Super Bowl ring.
"He likes that thing," Casey said.
The Daily Pilot was mentioned at least once during the dinner. John Ireland, the emcee and a former Corona del Mar High benchwarmer on the basketball team, told the crowd to be prepared for some crude jokes. He was careful to note that the media was in the house.
"The Daily Pilot is here, but that's OK no one reads that paper," Ireland said.
It should be noted Ireland's first job was as a paperboy, delivering the Daily Pilot.