On the first pitch of his first spring session throwing to live batters last week, Tommy Hanson tore the nail on his index finger. He looked down and saw blood, which would have served as a signal to most pitchers to stop throwing. Hanson kept throwing.
He felt sheepish – soon the bleeding was apparent to those standing around, Bobby Cox and some of his coaches among them – but he also felt he needed to impress these people. So he kept going. “One of our coaches finally cut it short,” Cox would say afterward. “But [Hanson] almost made his full five minutes.”
This tells us something about the 22-year-old considered the finest Braves pitching prospect since … dare we say Steve Avery? It tells us Hanson, who’s possessed of the requisite big arm, doesn’t mind shedding a little blood for the cause. It tells us he’s a young man in a hurry.
Indeed, the next day Hanson pulled the white bandage from his finger. He wasn’t supposed to throw that morning, but he said, smiling, “I snuck in a few.”
Hanson’s aim this spring is to make it difficult for the decision-makers to ignore what has become increasingly apparent: That he’s as close to being ready for the big leagues as a pitcher could possibly be. Asked for an ETA regarding Hanson’s major-league debut, Cox said three words: “Won’t be long.”
As much as the Braves don’t want to rush Hanson, they’re less hesitant about him than about Charlie Morton, who was promoted to the majors last summer. Morton always seems surprised when he succeeds. Hanson would be surprised only if he failed, which he hasn’t lately. In three minor-league seasons he has risen from 22nd-round pick to the guy who throws the slider Cox likens to John Smoltz’s.
Technically Hanson is a non-roster invitee to camp, which means he dresses on the minor-league side of the clubhouse and is staying at a Fairfield Inn in Lake Buena Vista, as opposed to the palatial Marriott World, which is the official Braves hotel. “I’m not happy where I’m at,” Hanson said, referring not to the Fairfield but to anywhere but the major leagues. But then:
“I want to make the [big-league] team. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t [this spring] – I’ll just try to go through the process and get better.”
He might dress on the wrong side of the room and wear an unsightly high number (73), but everyone in camp recognizes Hanson. He’s 6-foot-6 with blondish/reddish hair and an open Midwestern face – he’s from Tulsa – and he acts as if he’s on a mission, which he is. He knows the Braves ended trade talks for Jake Peavy because the Padres insisted on Hanson in return. He knows he’s already the bloggers’ newest crush on AJC.com
“You hear it, messing around on the Internet,” Hanson said. “It’s cool to hear your name being thrown around.”
The late addition of Tommy G. (as in Glavine) means Tommy H. probably won’t be on the Opening Day roster. Better to have him begin at Class AAA Gwinnett and pitch every fifth day than to work long relief in the bigs. But Gwinnett County isn’t far from 755 Hank Aaron Drive, and surely Hanson will make the commute before the summer’s done.
“I wouldn’t say I’d be disappointed [if he starts this season in the minors],” Hanson said. “Since I signed, my whole mindset has been working on what I need to do to get to Atlanta … I want to get there soon, but I also know I’m in this for the long haul.”
It should be noted that Tommy Hanson doesn’t consider Gwinnett, which we Atlantans see as part of our fair city, as Atlanta. To him, there’s only one true destination. And it won’t be long now.