– Cruz Serrano
As a young fan, it was sometimes hard to understand the importance of prospects in baseball. All players, even the most inexperienced, seemed like larger than life figures in a sport that I naturally loved. The first time I appreciated development and youth was when Tommy Hanson was flying through the Braves’ minor league system. As a 22nd round pick in 2005, Hanson was never supposed to make an impact at the major league level. That all changed after Hanson dominated the Arizona Fall League in 2008. In a league where pitchers always struggle, Hanson shined and to this point is still the only pitcher to win MVP in the history of the AFL. His 49 strikeouts in 29 innings that fall helped catapult him to 4th on Baseball America’s preseason top prospects list, after not being ranked in the top 100 the previous season.
I remember the hype surrounding Hanson during spring training, and well into the regular season after being sent down for a little more seasoning. I remember checking his stats after each of his minor league starts, waiting for his inevitable call up. Hanson was the first prospect I ever cared about. I didn’t want to him to succeed, I needed him to succeed. He was the future. With John Smoltz leaving for Boston, there was void in the Braves rotation, a void that Hanson had to fill. I remember when he finally got the call, and I remember watching the game on a hot a June day. His fastball was hotter than the air, and I remember being happy despite the 3 homeruns he allowed. The future was finally here, and not even Ryan Braun and the powerful Brewers lineup could ruin that.
Hanson ended up having a rookie season to remember, including a stretch in which he became the first NL rookie to beat the Yankees and Red Sox in back to back starts. And it became clear that Hanson was happy to be where he was, and his genuine personality and smile made that clear. The Braves missed the playoffs that year while finishing third in the NL East. However they were on the rise, and Hanson was integral to future success. During the 2010 season Hanson was the best pitcher on a great staff that included the likes of Johnny Venters, Billy Wagner and Tim Hudson. In 2011, Hanson’s unique delivery would catch up with him, and what started as a promising season would end with him struggling because of injuries. The regression continued for Hanson, and eventually the Braves traded him while he still had value, and his once bright future was dampened by cold hard reality. I couldn’t help but hate the trade, even if it was the right move, as Hanson would never pitch well at the big league level again.
Hanson was the player that made me fall in love with prospects, and that eventually led me to the scouts and writers that opened my eyes to advanced statistics. Hanson changed me as a baseball fan, and I will always love him for that. And beyond baseball, Hanson was always a player that was easy to relate with. His struggles were human, and seeing him battle despite those struggles was something I could relate with. And after losing his stepbrother, Hanson struggled with something that is universal to all; grieving for a loved one.
To speculate this early on where Hanson was in his life is something I don’t want to do. I’ve lost a brother, and I can relate with the difficulty of carrying on. Hanson was a genuine human being, and after he became a personal favorite player, he showed me that it’s possible to relate with these players that sometimes seem bigger than life. He showed me that despite the attention and praise, at the end of the day these players are human and face the same trials and tribulations as everyone else. Hanson’s death saddens me, more so than just the loss of one of my favorite pitchers. His death saddens me because he was a player whose humanity was always apparent, from his bright smile to his personal struggles and demons. Tommy Hanson was more than a baseball player, he was a human being that was lost at far too young an age, no matter the reason. Rest in peace Tommy, this world is bit darker without you for a fan whose life you impacted in more ways than just throwing a baseball.
– Cruz Serrano (@Cruzin_USA)