Reusse: Family grows beyond Hazeltine tragedy

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2011 - 7:37 AM

For John Hannahan, who survived a lightning strike at the 1991 U.S. Open, life has become more about embracing family, including big-leaguer son Jack.

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Ray Gavin (left) and John Hannahan (right) survived a lightning strike together at the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club.

Photo: Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune

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Dave Wilkie and Mike Fadell were buddies. Wilkie also had been a Cretin High classmate of John Hannahan and they stayed in contact through the insurance and appraisal businesses.

A couple of summers ago, Wilkie arranged for a group of 16 to visit his lake home on a summer weekend. Golf was included and Wilkie made sure to put Fadell and Hannahan in the same group.

"It was the first chance I had to spend a lot of time with Mike," Hannahan said. "I was happy for that. Mike died a few months ago. I'm telling you, he was one, feisty good old boy."

Fadell's feistiness was challenged greatly two decades ago, when his son, his wife and his mother died within a period of six months.

Billy Fadell, 27, died on June 13, 1991, when lightning struck a small willow tree at Hazeltine National during the first round of the U.S. Open. Hannahan was standing next to Billy in a single-file line and almost went with him.

"It is crazy how life plays out,'' Hannahan said. "I didn't know Bill ... just wound up standing under that tree, trying to get out of the rain. He was first, I was next, in a line of a half-dozen guys.

"The lightning hits and Bill dies. I was down next to him, unconscious and without a heartbeat. The first person to me was a spectator who happened to be a volunteer fireman. He was able to do CPR before the paramedics arrived. I was out of the hospital the next day."

Hannahan paused. "Without that fireman, I would've left four kids aged 14, 12, 10 and 4," he said. "You're grateful every day. And when this week comes around, that feeling is even stronger."

John was at Hazeltine with Ray Gavin, a golf partner. Gavin also was under the tree and knocked to the ground. He was stabilized at the golf course and hospitalized overnight, along with three other people.

Ten years ago, Hannahan and Gavin went to the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., with tickets arranged by the USGA. Gavin went again this week to Congressional.

Hannahan declined. He and his wife, Anne, are saving vacation time for road trips to watch son Jack play third base for the Cleveland Indians.

Jack was the Big Ten's MVP for the Gophers and was drafted in the third round by Detroit in 2001. He had a good run of playing time for Oakland in 2007-08. He spent the entire 2010 season in Class AAA.

He was signed by Cleveland as a minor league free agent last winter. Jason Donald was supposed to open as the Indians' third baseman, holding down the position until prospect Lonnie Chisenhall was ready.

Donald suffered a broken hand in mid-March. Hannahan opened the season at third and has managed to stay there. The numbers are modest -- .228, five home runs, 19 RBI -- going into Wednesday night's game in Detroit.

The season's highlight came on June 8, when Jack hit a two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth off the Twins' Matt Capps to send the game (a 3-2 Twins victory) into extra innings.

"Anne and I tape the Indians' games and watch later at night," Hannahan said. "That way, you can turn a 3-hour game into one hour."

John Hannahan was avoiding details of the June 8 game, knowing that afternoon game was recorded and he would watch when he got home from work.

"I heard the fellow in the next office yelling, and then he said, 'I'm not going to tell you what happened,' " Hannahan said. "But then my phone blew up with four, five messages that Jack had tied the game with a home run."

Buzz Hannahan, Jack's older brother, also played pro ball. He is the father of John's three grandkids -- daughters 9, 7 and 4. John and Anne have two daughters: Collette works in the arts in San Francisco. Kay is finishing 2 1/2 years in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria.

And Jack and his wife, Jenny, a kindergarten teacher from St. Cloud, are now expecting the Hannahans' first grandson.

"I'm very proud that he's going to John Joseph Hannahan V,'' John said. "The name goes back to 1859, when my grandfather was born. I'm the 3rd, Jack's the 4th, and now we're going to have this little guy.''

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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