In the second installment of ‘Through the Eyes of a Coach’ I sat down with former Pittsburgh Pirates closer and current Triple-A pitching coach Joel Hanrahan
This series, in particular, was put on the back burner for quite some time due to the ‘A Day in the Life of a Minor Leaguer’ series taking off as it did. The series I’m talking about is ‘Through the Eyes of a Coach.’ The first piece dealt with former Bristol Pirates pitching coach Eric Minshall. That article got a ton of support, and I thank you all for that. Today’s piece will involve former Pittsburgh Pirates closer and current Triple-A Indianapolis Indians pitching coach Joel Hanrahan.
As Pittsburgh Pirates, fans know Hanrahan was a vital part of the Pirates bullpen for four years,. For the most part, when he came in the game, you knew he was going to lock that inning up. What some people might not know is he was in professional baseball for 14 years. I wanted to know what were the main things he learned in those 14 years, not just those he spent as a lights out closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I learned just about everything. I got into pro ball at 18. My parents did a great job of raising me, and I had a pretty good start at life. What I learned the most was the day to day stuff and how to carry myself off the field. Dealing with cable bills, phone bills, moving out, and logistics of getting your cars moved. The logistics of baseball during the season on a minimal salary is tough.”
Hanrahan continued, “You grow up real quick and learn how to be a man. The cool thing is that when you’re 18 years old or whatever age you are, you play with guys from different cultures and communities. By playing with guys from all over it teaches you how to be a good man and a good person. With things being the way they are now, I think baseball players have a good grasp on that.”
With the world in turmoil due to social injustice and people speaking out on this subject, I think we can look at baseball and sports in general as an example of comradery no matter your skin color. If only everyone could see that and embrace other cultures, this world might be a better place.
Back to the topic at hand, I wanted to know if there were any coaches, peers, or any other outside influences that drove Hanrahan to get into coaching.
“I get that question a lot. I’ve had a lot of really good coaches during my time as a player. Obviously, I really liked Ray (Searage) when he was the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach, and I really like Joe Kerrigan when he was there. I wouldn’t say those two got me into coaching. My wife and Ray Searage’s wife got along really well. If you look at our track records, they are similar. He got around seven years in the bigs, gets hurt, and then starts coaching. It was the same for me.”
Hanrahan continued, “Two of the guys that stick out to me as influences are Marty Reed, who is now the Braves pitching coach and the late Kenny Howell. I had both of those guys in the minor leagues with the Dodgers. I liked the way they went about their business. Those two guys really taught me and others how to become men.”
It’s funny to me how Hanrahan talks about those coaches in his life are the same way the minor league pitchers he’s coached talk about him. It’s examples like this that show you how influential baseball is. It creates a form of intertextuality, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.
With the Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 and 2012, Joel earned two National League All-Star appearances. He had 76 saves in 127.4 innings pitched. Clearly, he was very dominant, so naturally, I wanted to know what was clicking for him that made him so dominant.
“Being a closer, it takes the whole team to finish the game out. Having those guys behind me were very solid and made good plays. You had the seventh-inning guys and the eighth-inning guys. Jason Grilli, Jose Veras, and Tony Watson got the ball to me, and that’s half the battle. I also think my attitude and trying to simplify it played a role as well. I went out there saying I got three outs to get, so let’s get it.”
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In the seven years, Joel spent in the MLB, he spent the most time with the Pittbsurgh Pirates. Four of his seven years were played in the Burgh. Being born and raised in Pittsburgh, I knew the ins and outs of the city and what it had to offer. I wanted to know what the city offered him and what his experience was like.
“I had a blast in Pittsburgh me and my wife joke about it all the time and say we could go back there if we wanted to. Everywhere we went, I stood out because I had the long hair and the long goatee. We were playing really good as a team, so the people were buying into it when things were going really well. Pittsburgh fans really back their players and support them. The way they support their sports teams is unbelievable. It’s hard to find a city that supports all three teams like Pittsburgh.”
In 2017 Hanrahan was asked to be apart of the West Virginia Balck Bears coaching staff. Essentially in a two year span, he went from player to coach. I wanted to know the reasoning for the quick turnaround from mitt to clipboard.
“I had taken two years rehabbing from the second surgery, and I felt it was time to get out of the house and get going again. I had my AH-HA moment playing catch with some guys, and it just wasn’t working. I was driving home from rehab one day, and I called Neal Huntington and asked if he had something for me. I was going to be the assistant in Morgantown, and some things happened, so I ended up in Bristol, and it was fun. Being in an office isn’t exciting to me, so I had to get on the field again.”
Hanrahan continued, “There’s something about being in the outfield having a conversation with somebody. I think you really let your feelings out, and you get to know your players out on the field.”
I know you couldn’t hear him talk, but let me tell you you could sense the passion in his voice with every word and the emphasis on getting to know his players personally. This MAN is very admirable, and I commend him for that.
As you all know, I’ve been talking to quite a few players, some of which were under the wing of Hanrahan recently. Cody Bolton went on record and said he was one of the best pitching coaches he’s ever had. I wanted to know what the secret sauce is and why these guys love Hanrahan as their pitching coach.
“I think being fresh out of it and remembering how hard the struggles of dealing with stuff like family and other things. I can relate to them with on the field and off the field stuff. I’m there for the players and not for myself because they’re the ones that are trying to get there, not me. I’m putting my energy in getting them to the big leagues because I want as many as possible to make it. It’s a whole different lifestyle because one year in the bigs could change someone’s life for a long time.”
One of the questions burning in my noggin for quite some time dealt with coaching these younger guys right on the cusp of glory. To be more specific, I wanted to know what coaching them was and how hard it was to manage egos at times.
“Like I said, I was one of them. I had the ego. Some could get frustrating, but most of the time, it’s a lot of fun. I’m not afraid to give them a hard time because I care about their interests, it’s not just to give them a hard time; it’s to make them better. I’ve got a lot more grey hairs now with my kids and baseball, but it’s filled with grey during the baseball season.”
In baseball, one of the buzz words nowadays is advanced analytics. With things like FanGraphs, Rapsodo, and all other kinds of technology. As a coach, I wanted to know how much stock does he put into the advanced stats side of baseball.
“I’m learning all of that we’ve done a great job as an organization digging deep into it. In fact, earlier, I was working with the Rapsodo with some guys. The information is good. I think it backs up what the coaches see a lot of times. There’s little things here and there that can help us create a new pitch. Most of us have the experience to see it with our eyes, but having the information to back it up is nice to have. The more you learn about it (advanced analytics), the more diversified you can be.”
Hanrahan has been quickly rising within the Pittsburgh Pirates organization jumping from Bristol to Triple-A Indianapolis in three years. His meteoric rise to Triple-A has been something of a marvel, much like his time as a player with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I wanted to know what was his formula to success and what did it feel like to be with Indy now.
“Obviously, this season is going to be interesting, but it’s been fun. I’ve gotten good reviews from the players. I try to keep it real with everyone. I try to give them the experiences, and I tell everybody I’ve been in every situation you can think of probably. I was a top prospect, starter, a failed starter, reliever, crappy reliever, and a good reliever, in the middle, in the end. I can give those guys that insight, and they’re the ones that make me want to do it.”
When and if there is a minor league season, Hanrahan will have a new skipper by his side named Brian Esposito. Esposito has been with Indy for a little bit now, and I wanted to know how well Hanrahan knew Espo and what kind of guy he is.
“I don’t have experience coaching with him. I know that he’s very organized, to the point and, doing things right. As long as we take care of the little things, it will play out for itself. I’ve enjoyed being around him the past couple of years and look forward to working with him soon. We got a couple of rounds of golf in during spring training, and he owes me some money, so I can’t wait to see him again.”
Legends say Hanrahan has a mean drive, so be warned if you face off against him.
Through text, we corresponded for a little bit. In one text, he mentioned he was playing dad, and that got me thinking. I asked him what is it like balancing being a father and coaching at the same time.
“My kids love it! My daughter is four, and she took her first steps on a baseball field. My son is just eating it up, and he’s experiencing all the different cultures as we talked about before, and it’s helped my kids grow up and get them outside of their daily lives. My son has been talking to Domingo Robles for four years now, he’s halfway fluent in Spanish because guys like that. Just being around the game and people is like a history lesson my wife and I think of it as. She’s done an amazing job dealing with the kids and traveling. In the summer, we put about 15,000 miles on the car in the summertime.”
I know you missed it and you know what I missed it too. The food question is BACK BABY! Someone on Twitter mentioned to me I should start a travel guide cookbook with all of the players and now coaches giving me food suggestions. In Iowa he said Casey’s Gas Station to get some Italian sausage pizza, In Dallas, you should go to Hard Eight BBQ, and for my non-Pittsburgh people, he mentioned Hyde Park for some delicious steaks.
I wish you could’ve experienced this live and in-person with me. Joel Hanrahan is one hell of a guy, and he’s rather funny, to be honest. With a ton of pitching talent in the organization, I’m very confident that Hanrahan and the rest of the Pittsburgh Pirates staff can mold these young men into great individuals and ballplayers.