TERRE HAUTE —
The sign in the Indiana State baseball corridor now indicates “Mitch Hannahs, head baseball coach.”
That news was music to the ears of many proud alumni of the Sycamore program.
Hannahs, a 1989 All-American second baseman, led the Sycamores to three NCAA Tournament appearances as a player and served under the program’s all-time winningest coach, Bob Warn, for six seasons. He then established Lincoln Trail as a solid junior college program.
He was close but was passed over twice for the ISU job after Warn’s retirement. But, hey, baseball is a game of striking out and taking a fearless approach on the next trip into the batter’s box.
Hannahs’ class and patience paid off.
According to some of those former players, Hannahs has helped instill the type of toughness it takes to attack a big at-bat or big game, as well as what it takes to succeed in life.
Left-handed pitcher Mitch Stetter, who has been in and out of the major leagues since 2006, remembers Hannahs showing him how to work extremely hard and enjoy baseball at the same time.
Stetter was watching the Hannahs news conference Friday from Arizona, where he is working to return to the Los Angeles Angels’ Triple-A team after a back injury.
“He was a great coach and well liked by all the players, all the pitchers. Just like his press conference [Friday], he’s exactly who he was then,” Stetter said. “He’s a guy that’s going to care about academics. He’s going to put that as a priority. He’s going to teach these kids about life in general. That’s part of being a good coach.”
Hannahs also helped recruit and guide infielder Clint Barmes, who is in his 11th season in the big leagues.
“That’s one of the reasons he went to Indiana State was because of Mitch,” said Emma Barmes, Clint’s mother, who resides in Vincennes. “He thought he was a great coach. He really liked Mitch Hannahs.”
Hannahs was also important in the development of San Diego Padres left-handed pitcher Joe Thatcher. Hannahs served as Warn’s pitching coach for several years. The Thatcher family was one of many in the Sycamore baseball family celebrating the hire.
Warn was thrilled to hear that Hannahs will coach at the same site his baseball career took off.
“He’s just a great hire,” Warn said. “He had a great work ethic and that’s what he gave to us. He experienced a lot of big games. He was able to relate that without really telling it. Every man on that team knew he stood for the things that took place in big games.”
Indeed. Hannahs’ numbers speak for themselves as a player. A .376 batting average over four years, capped by a .428 season as a senior All-American.
He was a natural, outspoken leader, Warn said. When a teammate needed to hear something, Hannahs was willing to speak up.
“Everything a college coach wants in an athlete. He was loyal, and he felt everybody else should be loyal too. He demanded loyalty from everybody. He was a worker. And I think that’s the kind of coach he is,” Warn said.
ISU baseball has been in good hands with Lindsay Meggs and Rick Heller since the Warn era ended.
Sycamore alumni look for Hannahs to take the Sycamores back to a NCAA Regional.
Former Sycamore Brian Dorsett was among those thrilled to congratulate Hannahs on Friday on campus.
“He is going to do wonderful things with the program and continue on with a nice tradition. He’s a guy I think can take it to the next level,” Dorsett said. “He’s going to be able to get the alumni, all the former baseball players are going to get behind him. He’s a guy that’s respected and wants to bring the former players back. And that will be easier for him because they know him. It’s a great day for Indiana State baseball.”
Stetter said former Sycamores of recent past were gratified to see Hannahs get the opportunity.
“Coach Heller, he did a tremendous job when he was there,” Stetter said. “It all started from previous coaches, and Mitch was a part of that. He’s well-deserving. I think Indiana State’s in good hands. I’m pretty sure we can get to a regional or two in the near future.”
Warn is eager to see Hannahs’ vision for the Sycamores advance in the upcoming years.
“He’ll take this program to great heights, and he’ll enjoy it so much because it’s his,” Warn said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. I’m so proud of the things he accomplished since he left us.”
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at craig.pearson@trib star.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarCraig.