Nate Hanson could hit. He batted .338 and .359 in his two seasons as the Gophers’ regular third baseman. He was the collegiate Northwoods League offensive player of the year in 2007 and the batting champion at .363.
The Twins drafted him in the 28th round in June 2008 and he was soon on his way to Elizabethton, Tenn., for the Appalachian League short season. He started playing first base as well as third in 2009. In 2012 at Class AA New Britain, he played 44 games at second base.
If Hanson was going to see the big leagues, this was going to be his ticket: the ability to play multiple positions with extra-base power. He always had a fair number of doubles, including a combined 33 in 2014 at New Britain and Class AAA Rochester.
There were sources of inspiration during his time in the Twins organization. That first summer, Matt Macri, 26, and also capable of playing first, second and third, made it to the big leagues for a total of 10 weeks and 18 games with the Twins.
In 2011, Brian Dinkelman, a 27-year-old second baseman and outfielder, played 33 games for the Twins. In 2013, Doug Bernier, 33 and five years removed from his only two games in big leagues, made it to the Twins for 33 games as a backup infielder. He returned briefly in each of the past two seasons.
“The Twins value the ability to play several positions,” Hanson said. “If you can do that and the right situation develops, and you’re in Triple A … you can envision getting a chance.”
Hanson turned 28 in February. The Twins wanted him back for his eighth pro season. He was going to be back in Rochester. Class AAA. You can see the big leagues from there.
“Nate had a really good spring training with Rochester,” said Liza Hanson, Nate’s wife. “Many people with the Twins were saying that.”
Then came the start of the International League season. The Twins felt as if they had a glut of infielders at Rochester. Hanson opened the season on the disabled list.
He has no comment on the injury perceived by the Twins.
“I had eight years with the Twins,” Hanson said. “I’m a fan of the Twins organization.”
Hanson had a total of 42 at-bats in 17 games between stretches on the DL at Rochester. His last two games were July 28-29, when he went a combined 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI.
George Tsamis, the manager of the St. Paul Saints, said: “You could see that Nate was on the ‘phantom’ disabled list. I called a few people, said, ‘What’s the deal? If he’s not going to get a chance to play, I’ll sign him.’ ”
The Saints, monsters though they are, have spent this glorious first season in CHS Field in need of a third baseman who could hit as well as field. On Tuesday night, cool and rainy, they finally had that player — Nate Hanson — in the lineup.
The Twins released Hanson from Rochester on Aug. 10. Tsamis was on the phone with Hanson’s agent within 15 minutes of hearing the news. It took some lobbying — from Tsamis, from Liza, from his older brother Nick — to convince Nate to sign for the final weeks of an independent league season.
“I think Mike Kvasnicka worked on him, too,” Tsamis said. “They were teammates with the Gophers, in the Twins’ organization and are good friends. And Mike loves playing for the Saints … he’s a recruiter for us.”
Hanson had 12 at-bats from May 20 in Rochester until Tuesday night. He batted sixth, behind right fielder Kvasnicka, and went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. The strikeout came on a changeup — as did a couple of other swings and misses.
The culprit on these changeups was easy for Hanson to identify: Matt Koch, the catcher for the Sioux City Explorers.
“We were in the minors together with the Twins,” Hanson said. “I told him, ‘Come on, Matt … I haven’t had many at-bats. Throw me some fastballs.’ ”
Hanson had a mantra during his days in the Twins organization. When it was over, it would be over. He wasn’t going to play in an independent league. The lobbying and the chance to play for the Saints (63-19) convinced him to give it a late-season try.
Now, he was in the spacious clubhouse of sparkling CHS Field, after Tuesday’s 2-0 victory. First impression?
“This is pretty big-time,” Hanson said. “It was raining all night and even with that it was a good environment. I’m going to try to do what I can to help this club.”
Then, he smiled and said: “Looking at the record, I’m not sure how much help they need.”