PAWTUCKET, R.I. – It wasn’t the way Milton native Alex Hassan envisioned starting the International League season.
Just back from extended spring training in early April after recovering from a broken bone in his left foot, the Pawtucket Red Sox outfielder walked into manager Gary DiSarcina’s office with more bad news.
“He said he had injured his calf muscle in pre-game warm-ups and at first, because this is my first year managing in Triple A, I thought that the players were playing a prank on me,’’ DiSarcina recalled of that opening day at Scranton-Wilkes Barre.
“But then I saw the look on his face and I knew it wasn’t a joke.’’
Hassan, Boston’s 20th round draft pick in 2009 out of Duke University, headed south again and regained his stroke and his confidence at Boston’s Class A affiliate in Greenville, S.C.
‘What’s most important is physically I’m feeling great, better than I have in a long time.’
Since his return to the PawSox in mid-June, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Hassan, who bats from the right side, has been as hot as the early summer weather.
He was hitting .438 with a homer and six runs batted in after going 4-for-5 Tuesday in a blowout win over visiting Toledo at McCoy Stadium and also making an impact by working deep into pitch counts and showing opposite field power.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that in my lowest moments I’ve found something within myself to overcome adversity, and that goes back to my two seasons in the Cape Cod League with Orleans,’’ said Hassan prior to the Toledo game.
“My 2008 season in Orleans I learned a ton about myself. It was the first time I had ever failed as a hitter over an extended period, but I was able to come back the next year and prove I belonged, and our manager there, Kelly Nicholson, had a lot to do with that.’’
A Cape Cod League All-Star that season, Hassan, who grew up playing the game at Milton’s Cunningham Park, was a pitcher and a position player at Boston College High, his three years at Duke and on the Cape.
“When I was drafted, I told the Red Sox that I’d follow the path they felt I’d be the most successful at. No doubt it was really hard to do both. It took a physical toll pitching seven innings, then playing the field for the next few days,’’ said Hassan, whose father, David, played varsity basketball at Columbia University and is a shade taller than his son.
Both DiSarcina, who managed Hassan during the latter’s first pro season with the Lowell Spinners in 2009, and Pawtucket hitting coach Dave Joppie, who tutored Hassan at Boston’s Portland, Maine, farm team, admire his plate discipline and work ethic that they feel rub off on his teammates.
“He was a pretty good hitter even when I first managed him,’’ said DiSarcina, whose PawSox were in first place in the IL’s North Division. “He worked the counts and hit to all fields and even though he didn’t show a lot of power at first, you could see he had the frame to grow stronger.’’
Named to Boston’s 40-man roster this season, the 25-year-old Hassan has also worked out at first base.
“Right now, we want him to come back at a reasonable pace and be really at the top of his game as we get late into the season,’’ said DiSarcina. “Alex has always had a high on-base percentage and he’s continued to do that.’’
Joppie said Hassan has an outstanding knowledge of the strike zone and has become more adept in identifying what pitches he can handle.
“There were times at Portland when that confidence wavered,’’ said Joppie, “but I think part of that was because he was a local kid who may have been a little surprised that he was moving up so quickly in the system.’’
A turning point, said Joppie, was Hassan hitting a home run and playing a ball perfectly off the Green Monster a couple of years ago in the Futures game at Fenway Park.
“It looked like he had been playing that wall for 10 years,’’ said Joppie, “and now his confidence level is as high as I’ve ever seen.’’
Hassan said former PawSox teammate and current Boston outfielder Daniel Nava has been a role model and a good friend.
“Dan’s an example that if you’re good enough and work hard enough anything can happen,’’ said Hassan. “He worked his butt off to get where he is and he’s a great example for anybody in the Red Sox organization.’’
That’s why Hassan is focusing on the present and not dwelling on past injuries (the foot injury occurred during off-season batting practice) or on his numbers.
“What’s most important is physically I’m feeling great, better than I have in a long time. I’m excited and happy to be playing again and there’s a comfort level working again with Gary (DiSarcina) and Dave (Joppie).’’
DiSarcina played 12 seasons as an infielder with the Angels and was an American League All-Star and team MVP in 1995.
“He’s had a tremendous influence on my career,’’ said Hassan. “He teaches us how a big leaguer should go about his business. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself. I’m excited to be on the 40-man roster and getting the opportunity to make the most of it.’’
Marvin Pave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org