On August 16, 2013, my son and I went to the “90’s night” game between the Salt Lake Bees and the Las Vegas 51’s. The 90’s night theme had our boys wearing the familiar Buzz jerseys for the night, and at game’s end would be auctioned off and personally presented by the player to the winning fan. This was going to be cool because I knew that Tommy Hanson was going to be making his first appearance with the Bees since being optioned by the Angels a couple days prior.
I liked Tommy Hanson. I liked him because in a sport where players are physical specimens and being tabbed to participate in the Sports Illustrated Body Issue, he was just a big, brutish fellow that looked like he could be that neighbor that spends all day under his primer-gray ‘89 Camaro with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
Tommy Hanson was the everyman pitcher that had some sips of success in the years prior to 2013 with the Braves organization. In fact, he was third in overall voting for the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year award, in front of names like Andrew McCutchen and Gerardo Parra.
In late 2012, Hanson was part of an offseason deal that, in exchange, sent Angels closer Jordan Walden to the Braves.
Angels fans will always remember the pre-season press conference that introduced him to the team. For Hanson, it would be quite unfortunate, but the scene was basically a caricature of what the Angels team was to be after the 2013 season. The press conference included, Joe Blanton (2-14 6.04 ERA), Ryan Madson (NEVER played), Sean Burnett (Only 9 2/3 IP) and Hanson; he ended up going 4-3 with just 13 games started for the Halos.
Hanson’s fall from grace was precipitated by two stints on the restricted list in early 2013. The first time away from the team came because his younger brother passed away suddenly. Like most of us do in times of tragedy, Hanson tried to soldier on and continue to work to put the sadness behind him. Though he later admitted that he simply wasn’t emotionally ready to play, and went on the restricted list again. This causing more time away from the team.
It had been a rough 2013 and in August of that year, Tommy Hanson was optioned to Salt Lake. The goal, as is with most big leaguers being sent down to Triple A in mid-season, was to iron out some technique and find that grove he seemingly lost during a mentally and physically tumultuous 2013 season up to that point.
My 10 year old baseball-nut son and I had one thing in mind when we were going to Tommy Hanson’s first start with the Bees that night in August….. WIN his jersey…… We have been the winners of a jersey or two in the past, but my son was a bit star struck at the idea that the same Tommy Hanson that just pitched against the Texas Rangers a week prior, was going to be toeing the rubber for our Bees. Ok……I was a bit star struck too. Just a little!…… Im a professional!!
The silent auction came and went, and as planned, we had won his jersey. In the 8th inning my son and I were escorted along with the other jersey winners to the tunnel by the clubhouse to wait for the game to end. Once the last out was made we were led on to the field and stood in wait for the players to find the winners of their respective jersey’s.
Knowing that Tommy Hanson started that night, we knew he probably wouldn’t be jumping out of the dugout, eagerly beckoning the winners of his Triple A jersey. So while we waited, we spoke to P Matt Shoemaker and P Jeremy Berg and his new wife.
My son saw Hanson standing on the first step of the dugout and said, “Dad, he’s right there…..and he’s in his underwear!”
That was pretty funny, I must say. He really was in his underwear. He didn’t care though. He had just pitched, don’t ya know!
We walked over to him and introduced ourselves. He was bigger than he looked on the mound and on TV! Luckily he was on that step in the dugout so he didn’t dwarf me as much as he could have….Hey…. I have a reputation to uphold to my son… If he thinks other dudes are that much bigger than me, it undoes many-a-tall tale Ive spewed to him about how cool I am!
Tommy Hanson was awesome.
He had a candid conversation with my son about how he approached pitching when he was his age. My son asked him to show how he would hold breaking and off-speed pitches back in the day, and as most dads will appreciate, gave my son, who was extremely over-eager to throw nasty curveballs, a little lesson on why it’s more important to place your fastball and mix it up with change ups vs throwing a bunch of curveballs.
It was great. He genuinely seemed to enjoy talking with us, and we really enjoyed talking with him.
My son and I have talked about that interaction here and there since then. When he struggles on the mound during his games, I have been known to bring up some of the finer points of that conversation with Hanson back in 2013. If he loses the feel for his off-speed, Ill sometimes make him “reset” and grip it the way he was taught by Tommy Hanson…..and it works too.
Tommy Hanson passed away yesterday, from what has been reported to as catastrophic organ failure. You don’t have to know what that is to understand that he was in really bad shape. The real tragedy is for his family and the fact that two sons died in their twenties, entirely too early.
A lot of people toss out the required “Thoughts and prayers” phrase since the news broke; I really have been thinking about him since he passed. I have been thinking of the impact our very small interaction in 2013 made on my life and the life of my boy.
He didn’t do anything more than invite us into his world for 20 minutes, but sometimes the most simple of activities and gestures can make for a lifelong experience to remember.
Thank you Tommy.