PEORIA, Ariz. — Jack Hannahan heard the talk from afar, but one never knows if the grass is greener on the other side until you climb over the fence.
Hannahan made the climb as a free agent and while his move was within the same state, from Cleveland to Cincinnati, he found a whole new baseball world.
The 33-year-old infielder isn’t saying the Cleveland was a stalag or a gulag, but what he has seen so far with the Cincinnati Reds has been everything he was told and more.
“You never know what you are getting into until you go to another organization,” he said after stops in Detroit, Boston, Oakland, Seattle and Cleveland. “It has been everything I expected. When you look at this team from afar, you see a team that won 97 games and made the playoffs last year.
“Then you get in the clubhouse and you quickly realize why,” he said. “This is just a great group of guys. They all pull for each other and this team works as hard as any group I’ve ever seen — on the field, in the weight room, everywhere.”
Hannahan has been a role player for most of his four years in the majors and for a role player the American League isn’t the ideal venue. And all of his previous five teams were in the American League.
“With the designated hitter, role players don’t get used much,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker. “They don’t pinch-hit much, they don’t double switch, so unless a guy starts a game he most likely isn’t going to play. He’ll get to play here.”
So coming to the Reds as a role player is a resurrection for Hannahan, who somehow found enough good weather in his native St. Paul, Minn., to become a baseball player rather than a ski jumper or snow boarder. He attended the Univeristy of Minneosta, where he was Big Ten Player of the Year in 2000 after hitting 15 home runs and batting .372, mostly with numb fingers. Then he was drafted in the third round of the 2001 draft by the Detroit Tigers.
“The National League has always been appealing to me and my agent and I tried to get to this league two years ago before I signed with Cleveland, but it didn’t work out,” he said. “For a player like myself who moves around, the National League is right up my alley. Finally, it worked out.”
Hannahan signed a two-year $2 million deal with a $4 million club option for 2015 with a $2 million buyout.
And for Baker, who uses everybody and uses them a lot, Hannahan will play. Right now it is as a backup at third base for Todd Frazier and a backup at first base for Joey Votto. But he has played all four infield spots, including shortstop, making him the ideal handyman.
“I’ve played short and I’ve played second,” he said. “I’m comfortable at all of them. It will be just a matter of taking a lot of ground balls to get the feel again. It is just going out and playing baseball.”
What appealed to Hannahan most, other than getting out of the American League, was the prospect of playing in the postseason.
“I had four other teams come after me and it came down to finding the team I believed was going to win and have a chance to go to the postseason. That’s something I always wanted to do and this seems like the right place,” Hannahan added.
And he is ready to scrape his spikes at any position Baker places him to help achieve that goal.