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Dry Your Eyes, Hatch Is Back

One of pool's forgotten sons finds his way back to the fold, as Dennis Hatch straightens out his life and his stroke.

Story by Mason King

Hatch could hardly slow down as he barreled through the final.

With nervous perspiration coating Dennis Hatch's face in a glistening sheen, it first was tough to tell that this big bull of a man, with the aggressive game and checkered past, had started to weep.

Moments earlier, he had slowed his breakneck pace enough to get a good look at the final 8 ball at the Gabriels Open 8-Ball Pro Players Championship. He huffed out a couple stiff breaths. He wiped his brow with the sleeve of his white-and-blue striped dress shirt.

He bent over and cut in the 8. He bowed his head for a split-second and then roared, "Yes!"

As he lingered in a hug with his girlfriend, Danielle, in the movie-theater darkness of the playing arena, his eyes welled with tears.

"It's been eight years since I last won a major," he said.

Those weren't just any eight years hacking away on the men's circuit. Hatch, 35, one of the premier 9-ball talents on the now-defunct Camel Pro Billiards Tour, was convicted for drug trafficking in 2000 and spent two years in federal prison after a probation violation in 2001. His father and pool mentor, Greg, who also served time on related charges, passed away in 2003.

After such setbacks, not too many in the pool community expected to see Hatch competing again at a high level. But there he was, cradling the first-place trophy like a newborn baby at the Pro Players Championship, held March 16-19 in conjunction with the Super Billiards Expo in Valley Forge, Pa.

This was the kind of moment Hatch dreamt about while serving time in Allenwood (Pa.) Federal Correctional Institution, where he pined for his twin, intertwined loves - family and pool. And it was the kind of moment he began to doubt he'd ever experience again, even after his release in 2003 and subsequent bid to straighten out his life and get back into billiards.

"I was starting to question myself, whether I still could compete with these guys," Hatch said. "Now I realize that I am a champion. I won the tournament, and I know I can still play better than I did. I played great, but I know I can play better. I just have to believe in myself."


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