|STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE
CLEAR OF ALCOHOL, FORMER U BASEBALL STAR LOOKS TO A PROMISING FUTURE
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.
|Jack Hannahan takes a second to savor a home run he hit against Michigan this past season.
Photo: Michelle King
Hannahan fought off a number of other tough pitchesa half dozen citations for underage drinking, a like number of visits to jail, blackouts, a trip to detoxand managed to stay alive. Then came strike three. After another night of heavy drinking a year ago last Julyand another blackouthe lay passed out on an elderly womans 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 Hannahans 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 cant 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.
What a difference a year can make. Its the middle of July 2001, two weeks before Hannahans year anniversary (July 28) of sobriety. Hes reflecting on lifeits curves and change-upswhile 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.
Everythings 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 Hannahans drinking days, clear usually meant free from any recollection of the previous evenings activities. He says hed drink fouror five times a week, 15 to 20 beers a night, and black out pretty much every time.
Id look in my wallet. If I didnt have any money in there, I knew I had a fun night, Hannahan says. Or hed ask one of his roommates or friends what happened the previous evening. Thats when I heard stories of what I didridiculous 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 Hannahans 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 didnt know how. When youre 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 Hannahans answer spoke volumes about his progress: Coach, Ive celebrated my 21st birthday many times. I dont need to do it again. That wa
s a defining moment when he told me that.
|Former Gopher baseball player Jack Hannahan, now with the Michigan Whitecaps.
Photo: Michelle King
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, Im moving up in life, Im getting better; I know what I want to do in life, and Im going to succeed at it.
Whatever Gods plan is for me, I want to do it, he adds. If its to make the major leagues, that would be a dream come true. If not, he says thats 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 wasnt 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 thats holding you back from reaching your potential, it can quickly have an impact.
Anderson says that one of Hannahans former teachers asked him to come back and share with students his tale of redemption. Anderson figures hell use Hannahans 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 its scary.
Annie Hannahan, Jacks mother, has witnessed his change, and remembers all too well when her son was in danger of losing everythinghis life, his education, his baseball scholarship, and his relationships
. Hes 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. Hes taken the Lords grace and run with it, and were 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 whos been through alcoholism himself.
And Hannahan is finding that he is not alone in his struggle. Everyone whos 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; its 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 Hannahans season statistics for the West Michigan Whitecaps, visit www.whitecaps-baseball.com. Click on Team.