Cleveland Indians closer Brad Hand navigates baseball’s late-inning stress by keeping an even keel

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The day Brad Hand was drafted into pro baseball was also his last day of high school. When Hand had finished his final day at Chaska High School in Minnesota, he headed to his house, where his parents had about 100 people over to watch the draft.

Hand said he didn’t know which round he’d be drafted, but eventually he got a call from the Florida Marlins. They took him in the second round of the 2008 draft, and Hand’s house was ecstatic.

“The neighbors about four houses down from us had told me later that they could hear our house just explode with cheers,” his mother Barbara Hand said in a phone interview. “It was really fun. Really fun.”

Hand’s mother said Hand coincidentally had a Marlins T-shirt in his closet, and he put it on after he was drafted. On the day of the draft, though, Hand’s father, Lon, still remembers his son telling him how hard he’d work to make it in the big leagues.

“He was very determined. I think the mental side of making it into professional sports and succeeding is a big part of the success,” Lon Hand said.

That determination and dedication has bred career success. A three-time All-Star, Hand has cemented himself as one of the best closers in MLB. This season with the Cleveland Indians he entered last weekend first in the AL and second in MLB for saves (27). In each of the three seasons he’s been an All-Star, Hand recorded at least 20 saves.

Hand has ranked in the top 10 in saves in each of the National and American leagues, not counting the 2019 season. Indians pitcher Adam Cimber, who was traded with Hand last summer from the Padres, has seen Hand’s mentality produce success up close.

“He’s steady in the clubhouse and on the field, and I think that’s huge for a closer to have that kind of mentality,” Cimber said. “Some guys get fired up and amped up. He’s the opposite, and I think that that’s something that everybody can admire and learn from.”

For Hand, though, being a perennial All-Star closer hasn’t always been his reality. He was a starter when he made his debut with the Marlins in 2011. Lon Hand said the Marlins eventually put his son in the bullpen because the starting rotation became full.

As Hand kept going back and forth from starting to the bullpen, he couldn’t get in a rhythm. The Marlins waived him in 2016, but when the Padres picked him up off waivers, he was able to work in a more specialized role.

At one point with the Padres, he was pitching only in the eighth inning. But closer Brandon Maurer was traded to Kansas City in July 2017, and Hand moved to the ninth inning.

“I tried to keep it the same as any other inning,” Hand said. “It just happens to be the inning that ends the game. Obviously, there’s more pressure and if you lose the game, it’s all your fault most the time.”

Still, Hand is able to shrug off mishaps and keep going. It’s a mindset that he’s carried throughout his life, and he credits that to his upbringing.

“If you work hard, you kind of choose your own destiny,” he said. “You never want to look back and be like ‘oh, if I did this, things would have turned out differently.’ I always tried to work hard and keep getting better.”

When Hand was 10, he asked for his own first baseman’s glove. Lon Hand said that if he went 4-for-4 in a game, he’d buy him a glove. When the first opportunity came around, Hand exceeded that goal.

“I think he got 11 hits in a row. When he was determined and focused, he was at his best,” Lon Hand said.

Hand’s high school coaches noticed how his hard work shaped him as well. A three-sport athlete at Chaska, Hand played baseball, hockey and football, although he dropped football during his senior year. But he played baseball and hockey throughout high school.

Hand was bigger than most kids, and was a force on the ice rink. Dave Snuggerud, Hand’s hockey coach, described him as a “social player.” He just wanted to play with his friends, but Snuggerud said Hand could be dominant when he wanted to be.

“His mindset was ‘I’m going to do well,’ and then he would do well,” Snuggerud said.

In all the sports Hand has played, his prime asset has been his mind. Troy Stein is currently the assistant principal and activities director at Edina High School in Minnesota, but he was the co-head baseball coach at Chaska with Dale Welter from 2006-08, Hand’s last three years of high school.

Stein said that around Hand’s junior year he and others saw talent that could get him a scholarship at the University of Minnesota. But Hand had bigger goals. Still, even with a plethora of pro scouts watching during his senior year, Stein said Hand remained poised on what was in front of him.

“Brad was so determined and focused,” Stein said. “He just kind of knew what he needed to do to just keep playing and approaching the game the right way.”

Hand continues to target goals. He wants to help the Indians win the World Series and his efforts have helped the team make a move on the Minnesota Twins, Hand’s hometown team. With nearly all his friends Twins fans, it’s odd to be chasing them in the division.

Still, that only gives Hand more motivation to help the Indians win.

“I don’t really set big lofty goals. Just try to compete and go out there and put out the good numbers,” Hand said. “And if you put out good numbers, you’re going to help your team win.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s