As Adam Hanson tidied up the Twins clubhouse on Thursday afternoon, he stopped to look at a photograph of Target Field on Opening Day. Not many people would even notice him in that grand panorama: a tiny figure in white, way down in the bottom corner, standing in his usual spot on the top step of the home dugout.
"Me and a buddy were just talking about titles for the books we'd write," Hanson said. "I decided mine would be called 'A Blur in the Background of Major League Baseball.' You have to look pretty hard to see me in that picture, but I'm there."
That sums up the story of his seven years as a Twins batboy. Hanson, 21, is always there to do whatever is needed, whether it's washing mountains of laundry or running errands or delivering baseballs to the plate umpire. The Woodbury native does it efficiently, with no fanfare and little recognition.
Just because he's in the background, though, doesn't mean he's not appreciated. When a game was rained out earlier this season, three Twins players spent their night off listening to Hanson play trumpet with the Hamline University jazz band. Moments like that make him realize how much he'll miss even the grubbiest parts of the job when he reluctantly moves on to life beyond the clubhouse.
"Everyone asks me, 'When are you going to be done with this? You've got to find a real job,' " said Hanson, who hopes to work a couple more years for the Twins and start law school in 2011. "The Twins have been part of me since I was a little kid. It'll be tough to give it up; it's fun getting to see every game and getting to know the players. It's been a great run."
Hanson's parents put him into his first Twins uniform when he was an infant, dressing him in a tiny Kent Hrbek jersey. Adam and his dad, Jeff, often went to spring training, where they befriended former equipment manager Jim Dunn.
Dunn invited 13-year-old Adam to serve as a batboy during spring training. When a full-time position opened two years later, Adam had impressed the team enough to win the job. He fit his duties around classes at Woodbury High School and Hamline until he graduated from college last spring.
Most people only know the visible part of Hanson's job: being in uniform, in the dugout, picking up bats and running baseballs to the umpire. But Thursday, he arrived at Target Field at 1 p.m., six hours before the game, and left around 1 a.m. Throughout the afternoon, Hanson kept the clubhouse neat. He often runs errands for players such as dropping off dry cleaning or filling cars with gas, and he is their go-to guy for computer repair.
He doesn't shag balls during batting practice any more -- "I have more clout now," he joked -- but he is responsible for the clubhouse bathrooms. In addition to keeping them spotless, Hanson must ensure they are well-stocked with everything from shaving cream to mouthwash, which he buys in quantity. On one visit to a beauty supply store, Hanson bought so much shampoo that the clerk asked to see his cosmetology license.
Hanson is so in tune with the players that he can anticipate their needs and match shoes to their owners just by looking at them. He also possesses the discretion necessary in a professional sports environment. He won't disclose his salary or the tips that players customarily give, nor will he spill clubhouse details to his friends.
"Everyone asks me things like, 'Are they going to make a trade?' " Hanson said. "I tell them, 'I'm doing the laundry. That's above my pay grade.' "
Those qualities endear him to players such as Kevin Slowey, Drew Butera and J.J. Hardy, who attended his Hamline jazz concert. "Adam does a lot of great things for us, above and beyond the basics," Butera said. "That was the least we could do in return."
After the Twins' 8-7 loss to the White Sox, which took more than 3 1/2 hours to play, Hanson still had nearly two hours of work ahead of him. He and co-worker Ryan Henk snapped on rubber gloves to clean about 20 pairs of shoes, using Scrubbing Bubbles, brushes and towels to reach their goal of making them look brand new. They also had to wash, dry and remove stains from every piece of every uniform, then place the clean clothes in each player's locker.
As midnight neared, Hanson was still cheerful -- just as he was several hours earlier, when he led the evening's honorary ball kid through the pregame ritual. Hanson completed it with a fist bump and the knowing smile of a guy who still feels that kind of excitement every night.
"I know I can't do this forever," he said. "But a couple more years would be great. It's a great job."