Jack Hannahan takes a second to savor a home run he hit against Michigan this past season.
—Photo: Michelle King
Strike one for Jack Hannahan was when he took his first drink in the eighth grade… and liked it. Strike two was when he was kicked off the Cretin-Derham Hall baseball team for drinking two years later.

Hannahan fought off a number of other tough pitches—a half dozen citations for underage drinking, a like number of visits to jail, blackouts, a trip to detox—and managed to stay alive. Then came strike three. After another night of heavy drinking a year ago last July—and another blackout—he lay passed out on an elderly woman’s lawn. She thought he was dead and called the police. When Hannahan woke up he was in an ambulance headed to detox again. He managed to reroute the paramedics to his home with the concession that they could speak to his mother. But it was Hannahan’s own talk with his mother after the paramedics left, without the excuses and rationalizations an alcoholic develops when the booze wears off, that set him on a new path.

“I sat my mom down on the couch and said, ‘Mom, I have a problem; I can’t control my drinking,’” says Hannahan. “I told her ‘I need help and I need to stop.’” Later that afternoon, still intoxicated, he was on his way to an inpatient treatment facility.

Happy Anniversary
What a difference a year can make. It’s the middle of July 2001, two weeks before Hannahan’s year anniversary (July 28) of sobriety. He’s reflecting on life—its curves and change-ups—while sitting in a hotel room in Vermont nursing an ankle he sprained playing professional baseball. In the last 12 months, Hannahan has cried in desperation among fellow addicts; finished his treatment and returned to the University for his junior year; become the Big Ten baseball Player of the Year and the Gophers’ unanimous choice as Most Valuable Player; been drafted in the third round by the Detroit Tigers; and signed a contract with a $470,000 signing bonus, which includes $35,000 to finish his college education.

“Everything’s fallen into place,” says Hannahan. “I have more time to do what I want to do, instead of thinking ‘When am I gonna get to the bar; what are we gonna do this weekend.’ My mind is so much more clear.”

Leading by Example
In Hannahan’s drinking days, clear usually meant free from any recollection of the previous evening’s activities. He says he’d drink fouror five times a week, 15 to 20 beers a night, and black out “pretty much every time.”

“I’d look in my wallet. If I didn’t have any money in there, I knew I had a fun night,” Hannahan says. Or he’d ask one of his roommates or friends what happened the previous evening. “That’s when I heard stories of what I did—ridiculous stuff,” he says.

John Anderson, head baseball coach at the University, was to some extent aware of the struggles Hannahan faced. The two talked frequently in Hannahan’s first two years and developed a solid bond. “He never lied to me,” says Anderson. “He trusted me and I trusted him.”

“I think Jack knew he had a problem for some time but he was scared [to confront it],” adds Anderson. “I had the feeling he wanted to do something but he didn’t know how.” When you’re surrounded by drinkers in their early 20s, Anderson asks, “How are you going to admit to your peers that you have a problem?”

This past season, after Hannahan admitted and faced his alcoholism, his peers on the baseball team responded with respect and encouragement. “All of a sudden his credibility just went way up; the other players took him seriously as a leader then,” Anderson says. “They rallied around him because they saw the transformation he made in his life and they respected him.”

Anderson figured a watershed event was approaching this past season, around the time of the Hormel Foods Baseball Classic. Hannahan was nearing his 21st birthday on March 4, and Anderson asked if he was going to be able to handle the occasion without wishing he were drinking. Anderson says Hannahan’s answer spoke volumes about his progress: “‘Coach, I’ve celebrated my 21st birthday many times. I don’t need to do it again.’ That wa
Former Gopher baseball player Jack Hannahan, now with the Michigan Whitecaps.
—Photo: Michelle King
s a defining moment when he told me that.”

A story in progress

From passed out and presumed dead to a bonus baby playing the game he loves for a high Class A team, Hannahan is a bit in awe at how his life has progressed and been transformed. “I look back on things, and at this time last year I was just a complete mess,” he says. “Now, I’m moving up in life, I’m getting better; I know what I want to do in life, and I’m going to succeed at it.”

“Whatever God’s plan is for me, I want to do it,” he adds. “If it’s to make the major leagues, that would be a dream come true.” If not, he says that’s okay, too. “I just want to be happy in whatever I do.”

“I always felt that Jack had, to some degree, unlimited potential in a lot of areas of his life,” says Anderson, but that he wasn’t using some of the gifts he had because of the alcohol.

“He grew so much as a person in the last year; it just amazes me,” says Anderson. “It just shows that if you take something out of your life that’s holding you back from reaching your potential, it can quickly have an impact.”

Anderson says that one of Hannahan’s former teachers asked him to come back and share with students his tale of redemption. Anderson figures he’ll use Hannahan’s story, as well. “I will use it to try and teach other kids. It may not be about alcohol but some other thing they need to change in their lives. We all have things we need to change, but it’s scary.”

Annie Hannahan, Jack’s mother, has witnessed his change, and remembers all too well when her son was “in danger of losing everything—his life, his education, his baseball scholarship, and his relationships…. He’s taken so much responsibility and just grown up in front of our eyes,” says Annie, who wrote a letter each day to Jack while he was in treatment. “He’s taken the Lord’s grace and run with it, and we’re so proud of him.”

Hannahan says that his inspiration has come from his family, Anderson, Gophers assistant head baseball coach Rob Fornasiere, and baseball booster Billy Soule, whom Hannahan cites as a role model who’s been through alcoholism himself.

And Hannahan is finding that he is not alone in his struggle. “Everyone who’s talked to me about my story has had one of their immediate family or friends or themselves in recovery,” he says. “Alcoholism is all over the place; it’s huge. People who step up and admit they have a problem are going to come out on top.”

by Rick Moore

for more info get more info For a recap of Jack Hannahan’s season statistics for the West Michigan Whitecaps, visit Click on Team.

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Last modified 10/5/01
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