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Kevin Gorman: 'Project 34' near and dear to Pirates' Trevor Williams

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, March 4, 2018, 7:01 p.m.
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams spends some time with Easton Borman, 2, and Joey Holmes, 5, both of Plum, before a game against the Phillies Saturday, March 3, 2018, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams spends some time with Easton Borman, 2, and Joey Holmes, 5, both of Plum, before a game against the Phillies Saturday, March 3, 2018, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams wears a Project 34 t-shirt Sunday, March 4, 2018, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams wears a Project 34 t-shirt Sunday, March 4, 2018, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams talks with Easton Borman, 2, and Joey Holmes, 5, both of Plum, before a game against the Phillies Saturday, March 3, 2018, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams talks with Easton Borman, 2, and Joey Holmes, 5, both of Plum, before a game against the Phillies Saturday, March 3, 2018, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli talks with pitch Trevor Williams after a bullpen session at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli talks with pitch Trevor Williams after a bullpen session at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Trevor Williams wore a Project 34 shirt Sunday, a number and name the Pirates pitcher calls "very near and dear to my heart."

The number is new for Williams, who switched from 57 to 34 this season to honor his former Arizona State roommate and teammate, Cory Hahn, who was paralyzed while playing in a game.

For Williams, it represents not just a new number but an old promise kept.

Williams told Hahn, who was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 20th round out of high school in 2011, that he would wear his college number if and when he made it to the majors.

It wasn't available when Williams made his Pirates debut in 2016, so he jumped when it became free last fall.

"That's what we talked about when I made the number change, when I called him up and asked him about the change," Williams said.

"I like to see it as our career now. He doesn't have the opportunity to put on a major league uniform anymore, so it's mine and his. Changing the number is a constant reminder that it is ours.

"But I also told him, 'If I start the year 0-5 with a 7.00 ERA I'm going to change it back.' "

Williams was only kidding, but he's serious about honoring Hahn by helping others who suffered spinal-cord injuries.

Together, they created Project 34, a charitable foundation that will provide second wheelchairs, physical therapy and ramps for for people whose insurance doesn't cover those costs.

The Project 34 foundation is still amid its 90-day waiting period for nonprofit status, so Williams and Hahn did a "soft launch" of the website Sunday — the date, March 4 (3/4), was intentional — so it could start selling shirts through the pghclothing.com website to raise awareness.

"We wanted to get the brand out there and organization out there and let people know this is what I'm all about now," Williams said. "We get excited talking about it because we know we're going to bless a lot of people's lives."

Williams told his teammates about Hahn and the foundation Saturday, distributing Project 34 shirts that some Pirates players wore under their uniform.

"He didn't ask for money or anything. He just handed out shirts and told us about it," said Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon, who played with Hahn on Team USA and considers the Project 34 foundation personal. "I'm pretty sure almost everyone came up and asked what they could do to get more involved or help it take off."

No. 34 carries special significance for Hahn. He was wearing it when he made his first career start at Arizona State on Feb. 20, 2011.

Hahn drew a walk and, with a runner on second, got the double-steal sign. When Hahn slid into second, his helmet hit the knee of New Mexico State second baseman Kyle Stiner. Hahn heard a crack but felt nothing. It was a fracture of his C5 vertebra, a career-ending injury that left Hahn paralyzed from the chest down.

The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Hahn in the 34th round in '13, and he's now in MLB as their coordinator of pro scouting.

Hahn's injury gave Williams a new perspective, one that made him appreciate his good fortunate in baseball.

"I'm grateful for that perspective moment, I guess you could say, just because it helps me realize that baseball is not the most important thing in the world," Williams said.

"You play baseball for such a finite amount. When we go back to that day, go back to that injury, all the emotions come back. I continue to put the jersey on for him and for guys who can't play. He's not the only guy to have a career-ending injury on a baseball field, but I saw it happen to him. It helps me to put on the jersey to know that you can't take every day for granted."

Not with a jersey number, a foundation and a career that they share.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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