Parker Hanson has lived his whole life without a left hand, so he's used to the questions. They're far better than the stares — enough so that he says, "I enjoy talking about it. I don't want people to be scared to ask about it."
He's so used to the challenge of playing baseball with one hand — first while growing up in Hawley, Minn., then at Dakota County Technical College and now at the University of Minnesota-Crookston — that he doesn't even think about it when he's on the mound. The sturdy 6-1 right-hander holds the glove on his left arm while he throws, then seamlessly transfers it to his right hand after delivering the pitch.
Still, opponents will test him; the first batter he faced in his UMC career last weekend bunted. He was quickly thrown out at first.
"Guys are going to try to challenge him," Golden Eagles head coach Steve Gust said. "As I coach, I would encourage that because Parker is up for challenges."
Being born without a left hand? Hanson was still playing baseball by age 2, encouraged by his mom, stepdad and older brothers. "They gave me all the resources to succeed," he said.
Getting left off a fifth-grade traveling team in large part because of having one hand? "That kind of hurt and was a setback for me," Hanson said. "It made me feel like I wasn't a solid enough player. But I stuck with it and used it as motivation."
Pitching in high school at Hawley — a town of 2,000 people located about 20 miles east of Fargo, N.D. and not exactly a hotbed for baseball recruiting? "I had the mindset of going to junior college all the way," Hanson said. "I wanted to give myself two more years to prove myself."
Getting a two-year degree at Dakota County Technical College in just one year, in part because of his high school academic success and in part because he was losing his passion for baseball while playing there? "I was contemplating giving up. But right when I was at the lowest point, Coach Gust called me and gave me some confidence. I got the desire for baseball back in my blood. It was the middle of July by the time I committed (to UM-Crookston)."
So naturally his debut was memorable: at U.S. Bank Stadium against Minot State … in the back half of a double-header that started at 2:10 a.m., technically this past Saturday. Just one more challenge.
"During the first game when I was preparing, my body felt drained," Hanson said. "But right when I knew it was time to get loose, I got the adrenaline going and I was fine."
It helped that his mom made the three-plus hour drive from Hawley to see his debut (and then made the return trip home in the middle of the night after he was done). His girlfriend made a six-hour drive from Warroad. Several of Hanson's friends who live in the Twin Cities also sacrificed some sleep to see him pitch.
The results weren't perfect — two earned runs allowed in 3.1 innings — but the Golden Eagles earned a 5-4 win over Minot State, their only one of the season so far in a 1-2 start.
Hanson throws four pitches for strikes — fastball, curveball, slider and an emerging changeup, Gust said — and the fastball can approach 90 mph.
"He was a guy on our radar, but in the last year he's just kept getting better," Gust said. "I put on a lot of miles to see him, and in the end it worked out for us. You can tell he takes a lot of pride in what he does. He has a drive like no other."
Both coach and player agree the drive comes from having to overcome obstacles.
"I don't look at him as having a disability," Gust said. "I look at him as being a very good pitcher. He just gives us a chance to win. I think he's used it to his advantage. He's just so strong mentally."
If you live in the Twin Cities and want to see Hanson pitch, your best bet is this weekend — but once again, it's the middle of the night.
Minnesota-Crookston is slated to face Dickinson (N.D.) State in another doubleheader this weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium. The first game is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. Saturday, with Game 2 at 12:30 a.m. Sunday. Gust joked that they're playing "night-day" doubleheaders instead of day-night doubleheaders. Those were the same scheduled start times as last weekend, when the Gophers game ran late and pushed everything back.
And yes, Hanson is slated to start the second game of the doubleheader once again — as Gust grooms him to be a weekend starter and one of the aces of the staff once games become more frequent.
"Last weekend, we were getting out of the stadium at 5 a.m. and another team was getting there to do their hitting work," Hanson said. "It does kind of mess with your sleep schedule."
As usual, though, Hanson turns a challenge into a positive.
"You're kind of awestruck when you walk into U.S. Bank Stadium. It's so big, and it's nice and warm," he said. "It's awesome."