Jake Hanson arrived at Valparaiso in the fall of 2012 and has yet to leave. After earning the starting catching job as a sophomore, a flurry of injuries caught up with Hanson and significantly altered his path.
The summer after his sophomore year, Hanson tore his UCL, requiring Tommy John surgery and a long recovery. He was forced to redshirt as a junior, putting his playing time on hold for the time being.
“It felt like forever,” Hanson said. “You start off, it’s like eight weeks of having your arm at a 90-degree angle, and you can’t move it. You can’t sweat. Literally you’re doing nothing.”
Hanson never thought it would spell the end for his baseball career as he eagerly counted down the number of days to his anticipated return.
“I had a picture of me from the game I got hurt as the background on my phone,” Hanson said. “Every day I’d open my phone and think, ‘that’s going to happen again someday.’ I guess that kind of kept me going to get through it.”
In his time away, new catchers entered the program and Hanson was forced to take on a different role, primarily as a designated hitter. But the switch has worked out for the best.
“I came in as a defensive catcher,” Hanson said. “If I was going to hit, it was going to be a bonus. It switched all of the sudden. When I was going through the rehab, there was a period of time where I couldn’t throw, but I could hit. So I just got after it. Something just clicked in me mentally to be aggressive. It’s weird to think about how getting hurt and sitting out for a year made me (10 times better) in the end.”
Returning from injury in 2016, Hanson upped his 2014 average from .219 to .327.
Recovering from Tommy John wasn’t the first time Hanson had dealt with a serious injury.
Hanson played through a broken wrist injury as a sophomore in high school. The summer after his freshman season at Valpo, Hanson tore his meniscus playing summer ball. To this day, he still feels aches in his wrist, elbow and knee from the inevitable wear and tear.
Dealing with the physical toll, his aspirations have changed.
Excelling throughout the youth and high school levels, Hanson’s dream had always been to get drafted and work his way up to the big leagues. But somewhere along the way, his passion changed.
“I think with the amount of injuries I have incurred, I think it just got to the point where it was like, ‘I don’t know if I could do it every day for 15 more years,” Hanson said. “I don’t know if I can play for 15 more years, but I need the game. I’ve done it my entire life, I don’t know what else I would do. So coaching it is. I want to be a college manager.”
The catcher position requires the most thinking in baseball, and for decades it has prepped players for the role of manager.
But for now, Hanson’s just enjoying being the “old guy” on a relatively young team, earning the nickname “Grandpa Hanson.” The designated hitter is one of two fifth-years on a team consisting of 18 freshmen and sophomores.
After starting the season slowly, hitting just .220 through the team’s first 16 games, Hanson has been on a tear, mashing .351 over the team’s last 17 games.