Scoggins: Hannahan, never a quitter, is rewarded for his perseverance

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 14, 2012 - 10:47 PM

The former Cretin-Derham Hall and Gophers star has resurrected his baseball career and become the Cleveland Indians’ everyday third baseman at age 32 after arriving at spring training last year as a nonroster invitee.

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Former Gophers standout Jack Hannahan has displayed enough offense to nail down the starting job at third base for Cleveland.

Photo: Amy Sancetta, Associated Press

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Jack Hannahan walked into the visitors clubhouse at Fenway Park last week and got goose bumps.

His emotions had nothing to do with the stadium's history and mystique. Instead, his mind flashed back to that August night last year when he got the opportunity to witness the birth of his first child thanks to a generous act by his teammates.

"Kind of surreal," he said.

That pretty much sums up Hannahan's life these days. The former Cretin-Derham Hall and Gophers star has resurrected his baseball career and become the Cleveland Indians' everyday third baseman at age 32 after arriving at spring training last year as a nonroster invitee.

He is hitting .287 with three home runs and 18 RBIs, and the Indians remained in first place in the American League Central with a 5-4 victory over the Twins on Monday. (Hannahan did not play because of tightness in his lower back.)

And best of all, his son Johnny is doing wonderfully at 9 months old after being born three months premature.

"It's by far the most fun I've had," Hannahan said.

He has experienced the other side, too, in a career that stands as a testament to the power of perseverance. Hannahan was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 2000 and drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the third round, but he never really established traction at any professional stop. He logged service time with Detroit, Oakland and Seattle, earning the reputation as a terrific defensive player but a marginal hitter who lacked ideal power for a corner infielder. Basically, a journeyman trying to keep his foot in the door as long as possible.

At age 30, he spent the entire 2010 season at Class AAA after suffering a torn muscle in his groin early in spring training with Seattle. In hindsight, he said he should have sat out the season and recovered. But he wanted to play and ultimately ended up in Boston's farm system after being traded.

That kind of season at that age can force a player into his next phase in life, but Hannahan believed he still had something to offer.

"It's always been my dream to play in the big leagues, and I'm going to play as long as I can play," he said. "I've never been a quitter."

He received interest from five teams last winter before signing a free-agent minor league contract with Cleveland. Essentially third on the depth chart, Hannahan won the starting job out of spring training, beating out top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall.

"Coming in as a nonroster invitee, you're a long shot even to make that team, let alone become the Opening Day starter," he said.

The daily stress of trying to prove he belongs at this level was nothing new at him. The serious complications his wife, Jenny, experienced during her pregnancy helped put that in proper perspective. Jenny was hospitalized on bed rest at 24 weeks. Every road trip left Jack with a sinking feeling, knowing his son could be born at any time.

Predictably, that happened during a trip to Boston. A team official pulled Hannahan aside after the game and told him his wife was in labor. The first available flight was at 6 a.m. the next morning.

"My heart just sank," he said.

Word quickly spread in the clubhouse. Several veterans told the team official to charter a private jet, and his teammates pitched in to cover the $40,000 cost. Hannahan arrived in Cleveland a few hours later and got to the hospital 15 minutes before his wife's emergency Cesarean section.

"I've never really felt like I needed gifts or presents or whatever," Hannahan said. "For the guys on the team to do that, getting me home, is something that me and my wife will never forget."

Johnny weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces at birth, but he's up to 18 1/2 pounds now.

"He's doing great," Hannahan said.

His wife and son healthy, Hannahan played well down the stretch last year and displayed enough offense -- .250 with eight home runs and 40 RBI -- to solidify his roster spot. He won a head-to-head competition with Chisenhall again this spring. Cleveland's starting rotation is built around sinkerball pitchers, so Hannahan's sure-handed defense is a perfect match.

"We value his defense," manager Manny Acta said.

Hannahan knows better than to take anything for granted, though. He feels more settled and comfortable this season -- on and off the field -- but he understands better than most the bottom-line nature of his business.

"The biggest thing in professional baseball is getting an opportunity," he said. "There are so many players, and it's kind of a job where it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type business. When you get that opportunity, you need to make the most of it."

You never know where that might lead.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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