Joel Hanrahan has Fond Memories of Playing Babe Ruth Baseball

Before becoming an All-Star closer with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox, Joe Hanrahan was a pitcher and a catcher on the Gainesville, Florida Babe Ruth league Pirates team.  Hanrahan lived in Gainesville from second to eighth grade before moving back to his native Iowa.

Hanrahan"It's funny because when we were playing there it was the last time the Babe Ruth Pirates team was good," Hanrahan said.  "One of the dads had the Jolly Roger flag and would bring it to games.  We played on a softball field at Westside Park.  They set up little orange fences across the outfield."

The Pittsburgh Pirates last won a National League division title in 1992.  The Babe Ruth Pirates won the Gainesville City Championship in 1992, when Hanrahan was 11.

Hanrahan moved from Jacksonville to Gainesville after his father, Bob, took a job at a food service company.  The Hanrahan family settled in northwest Gainesville near Buchholz High School.  When Joel arrived midway through his second-grade year, the youth baseball teams in Gainesville had already filled their rosters.   

"No team wanted to take me," Hanrahan said.  "So my mom said, 'We weren't going to have any of that.'  My mom coached and she found 10 kids and added another team."

One coach recognized Hanrahan's potential as a pitcher.  Stephen Mercadante, a Gainesville attorney, coached Hanrahan.  "Joel had natural instincts for the game," Mercadante said. "He started pitching for us when he was 13 and you could see he knew how to pitch.  He could locate and change speeds.  Poise is so important on the mound and he had that.  It's something you can't really teach."  Mercadante, who has coached youth baseball in Gainesville for more than 20 years, said it's the first time to his knowledge that a MLB All-Star has come out of the local youth leagues.

Hanrahan's parents moved him back to Iowa when he was in eighth grade so they could be closer to family. 

After sprouting to 6'5" in his junior year in high school, Hanrahan emerged as a pro prospect, throwing a fastball that touched the high 90s.  But after being drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, his career endured its share of adversity.  It took seven minor league seasons and a switch in organizations before Hanrahan made his Major League debut with the Washington Nationals.  Hanrahan was traded to Pittsburgh in 2009.

"I did go through some touch times in Washington where I was searching for answers," Hanrahan said.  "I think what changed is, to be honest, going back in my mind to 11 or 12 years old and playing for the Babe Ruth Pirates and having fun.  Remembering that it's still a game, still a kid's game and not just a business.  Playing for the love of the game and not just playing because it is a job."

Traded to the Boston Red Sox in December 2012, Hanrahan was placed on the disabled list due to a damaged flexor tendon in his right elbow.  He underwent season ending Tommy John surgery n May 2013.

Even though Hanrahan's season is over, the pitcher is still contributing and making a difference outside the lines.  He recently spent time at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute visiting with Jimmy Fund patients.  Hanrahan chatted, played and laughed with the kids as his ultimate mission was simply to brighten their day, and he noted how nice it was to seem them smile.

Pictured below at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are Phoebe Davis, 5, and her brother Caleb, 7, of Rockland, with Joel Hanrahan.