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Reich Award-Winner, Housatonic’s Willy Yahn, Set to join Torrington Titans. Story by John Torsiello.

POSTED June 05, 2014
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Awards are nice. But when the person after whom the honor is named after was a most special human being, well, that makes receiving it even more satisfying and meaningful.

That’s the way Housatonic’s Willy Yahn, a senior, felt about receiving the annual Steven Reich Award, given to the best high school pitcher in the Berkshire League.

“It's a huge honor to win this award,” said Yahn, whose scholastic career ended when Housatonic was eliminated from the state Class S tournament Monday by Old Lyme, 3-0. “Knowing that Steve Reich holds such a special place in not just the Berkshire League baseball community but also the West Point baseball community makes the honor even more meaningful.”

Major Stephen Reich, a star athlete at Shepaug, was commanding a large rescue operation in the mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan when his Chinook helicopter was shot down on June 28, 2005, killing all 16 men on board.  In the wake of the tragedy, a group of friends, classmates and teammates from the Washington community came together to create a meaningful and lasting way to honor the service of one of Washington's favorite sons. The result of those efforts were several annual awards.

Reich moved to Washington with his family, parents Ray and Sue, and sisters Megan and AnnMarie, in 1980. As a sophomore at Shepaug, he was the winning pitcher on the 1987 Class S State Championship baseball team. He was a member of the National Honor Society, served as a class officer, was selected as a Berkshire League All-Star twice in soccer and baseball, and was selected twice to the Class S All-State team in baseball.

He received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point where he graduated from in 1993. Following his graduation, he played baseball for Team USA and was selected by the United States delegation to carry the United States flag at the Opening Ceremonies of the World University Games in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1993.

After his Team USA experience, he elected to pass on a promising professional baseball pitching career to serve his country in the U.S. Army. Over the next 12 years, Reich quickly rose to the rank of Major in the Army’s Special Operations Aviation Regiment, otherwise known as the Night Stalkers.

Throughout his life and career, Reich was said to be a natural born leader who tirelessly and selflessly gave to the people around him.

The 18-year-old Yahn, who is headed to the University of Connecticut to continue his academic and baseball career, is a well-deserving recipient of the award. Not only is he the top pitcher in the BL, he goes above and beyond to help those in need. With the help of Call to Care Uganda and the Pitch In baseball donation fund, he has been able to donate about 1,500 pounds of baseball equipment to little leagues and other baseball programs in Uganda.

“This began the summer my sister, Ellie, went to Uganda with the Call to Care Uganda program to an orphanage to help educate and assist the health of the children in that part of the world,” Yahn Explained. “That same summer, a team from Uganda made it to the Little League World Series. When ESPN did a segment about how the team went through most of their regional tournament to get to the Little League World Series without cleats, gloves, baseball pants, and other items that sparked the creation of the donation of baseball equipment. Baseball is spreading all around the world and everyone should have an equal chance to excel at the greatest game this world has to offer.” 

Yahn was brilliant this season, posting an 8-2 record with one save in 12 games. He had a 1.67 earned run average per seven innings, striking out 104 batters and walking 20 in 63 innings of work. As a hitter he was spectacular as well, batting .587 with 37 hits, five homers, nine doubles, five triples, 18 RBI and 26 runs scored, along with 20 stolen bases.

Now that his high school career is complete, Yahn will have the thrill of a lifetime when he joins the Torrington Titans for the summer.

“The Titans will be great preparation for college baseball. The Futures League is quickly rising and becoming one of the best leagues in the country and it will be exciting to compete with the best in the league.” 

He added, “The Titans will be great preparation for college baseball. Playing for the Titans is going to be a fantastic experience. I have fond memories of going to Torrington Twisters games with family and friends when they were a part of the NECBL. It has been a goal since a young age to be able to play that caliber of baseball.” 

Yahn, who has been informed he will most likely be playing middle infield and doing some pitching in relief for the Huskies, said the most enjoyable part of playing high school ball was “to enjoy the success of Mountaineers baseball over the years with great friends and carrying on the rich baseball tradition Housatonic baseball embodies.”

His role model is New York Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter.

“He's a great leader, great human being, and of course one of the best to play the game. And my parents have always been there for me and the most helpful. They've always taught me to be a selfless person and a humble competitor.”

Yahn has worked hard at his craft. His fastball tops out at around 90 miles an hour and he has several other pitches.

“I throw a fastball, curveball, slider and a changeup. I haven't had my fast ball clocked since last summer, but at that time it was 88 miles an hour. So, right now when I rear back and throw it could touch 90 miles an hour. I developed a slider to go along with my 12-to-6 curveball to give myself an option for what to throw in case one pitch isn't working as well as the other.”

He’ll get plenty of opportunity to work on all aspects of his game this summer with the Titans, and Housy fans will have a ball watching one of the best ever to play the game for the Mountaineers mix it up with the college boys.

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