Every baseball season since he was a young kid growing up in Monroe County has been special for Mitch Hannahs.
However, the spring of 2014 will be especially sweet for the 1985 Skyvue High School graduate.
Hannahs was recently hired as the head baseball coach at his collegiate alma mater, Indiana State University.
"It's really special to get back on that campus," Hannahs said during a recent phone interview. "It's been very exciting for our family and I'm anxious to get started."
Hannahs, who is a member of both the Indiana State University and Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Halls of Fame, was actually visiting his family in Eastern Ohio when he got the call offering him the job.
"That part made it really special," Hannahs said. "I was in Ohio on business and had the opportunity to drive down to Barnesville and visit my parents, my grandmothers and my aunt and uncle. I was sitting there visiting when I received the call. A lot of things over many years kind of hit you at that point and time. When you're back in the area that you grew up in and receive a call like that, it just causes you go to back and think about so many things and growing up in the Ohio Valley was such a big part of it."
The Indiana State athletic administration wanted him back in Terra Haute the next day for an introductory press conference at which he was presented the same No. 22 that he wore as a player with the Sycamores.
Hannahs, who still has his name listed throughout the Sycamores' record book, finished his career at Indiana State with a .376 batting average, 274 hits, 34 doubles, 23 triples, 11 home runs, 220 runs scores,138 RBI and 77 stolen bases. He was named All-American in 1989 after leading the team with a .428 batting average, helping ISU to the Missouri Valley Conference title.
During Hannahs' career, Indiana State made three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.
It's those trips that drive Hannahs and give him the measuring stick of what's considered a successful program.
"The mark of a good program is getting to the NCAA Tournament, not just once in a while, but year in and year out," Hannahs said. "Even if you don't win the conference tournament, be at least mentioned for an at-large bid. We've not been to back-to-back regionals since I played. We've had some success, but there's still room for improvement."
Hannahs' coaching resume includes two tours of duty as an assistant at Indiana State (1995-99 and 2001) and a nine-year stint as the head coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.
During his time at Indiana State, one of the most notable players that Hannahs recruited to Terra Haute is current Pirates' shortstop Clint Barmes.
"Clint was playing at a junior college and I was close with the coach and we needed a shortstop," Hayes recalled. "The coaches told me thought Clint could play shortstop and after watching him work out, I thought so too; but it might be a stretch since he'd played mostly outfield. I took the coach's word and we eventually signed him. He started at shortstop as a sophomore and still owns our school record for most errors in a season. But, he came back the following year and became the best shortstop we've ever had."
Two other players who've reached the big leagues that Hannahs had the opportunity to coach are Joe Thatcher (Diamondbacks) and Mitch Stetter (Brewers).
During his career at Lincoln Trail Community College, Hannahs led the Statesman to regional titles in 2005 and 2007 and conference titles in 2006 and 2007.
Hannahs left the coaching box to serve as the college president, but the itch for coaching and baseball never left.
"I thought I'd step in for a year and it turned out to be three years and I thought the longer you're out (of coaching), the tougher it is to get back in," Hannahs said. "While I was out of it, the passion and desire to do it was only fueled. I guess this opportunity was a now or never type thing for me."
Hannahs was introduced as the Sycamores' head coach on July 25 and it's been a blur since then.
"I just finished up at Lincoln Trail (on Friday) and I'd been going back and forth between there and Indiana State since then, so I am excited to get started officially on Monday," Hannahs said. "The opportunity to go back and re-connect with so many friends, former players and alumni is really appealing."
It'll be a few weeks before Hannahs gets the chance to formally meet his new team. Most of his roster is out playing in different summer ball leagues across the country and won't return to campus until later this month when classes resume.
"I've spoken to the returning players and incoming freshmen via the telephone," Hannahs said.
Hannahs, who was drafted in the 16th round by Milwaukee Brewers in 1989, didn't have to look too far to find one of his returning players. He'll also have the opportunity to coach his oldest son, Derek, who will be a redshirt junior. He transferred to his father's alma mater after starting his career at Ohio State.
"I think we're both a little cautious about that," Hannahs relayed. "It was one of the factors that worked against me even pursuing the job. I think it's important that the less we talk about it and more he's treated like the other players, the better situation it'll be."
He's been working already trying to put together a coaching staff and he plans on taking his mandatory NCAA test early this week, allowing him to get out on the road recruiting.
"I feel good about what I've been able to do with our staff so far," Hannahs said. "I am hoping to be able to announce our first assistant on Monday or Tuesday. I hired a volunteer coach, who is a long-time high school coach in Terra Haute and in surrounding states, too."
So what can folks expect from the 2014 Sycamores' baseball team that's coming off a 26-25 season?
"It's hard to say until you get out on the field and start working," Hannahs said. "We lost a junior pitcher (Sean Manaea) who signed for $3.55 million with the Royals, so that's a big piece in the front of the staff. We'll have some question marks. I know they struggled to score runs last year, so we'll have to improve our offense. I never get excited early because of names on a paper. It's the same in recruiting because being a productive high school athlete and college athlete are completely different variables. I'll have a better answer about us in November or so when we get to work."
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