ALTOONA, Pa. — Before there was the Nightmare and Mark the Shark or even Grilled Cheese, it was The Hammer who held down the ninth inning for the Pirates.
The Hammer, of course, was the nickname of former closer Joel Hanrahan after he was acquired via trade from the Nationals in 2009. Now, nearly 10 years after becoming a Pirate for the first time, Hanrahan is in his third season as a pitching coach within the Pittsburgh organization, his first with Double-A Altoona.
It might have been with the Pirates' organization that he got his start in coaching, but it was with Detroit that the idea of potentially coaching crossed his mind.
"The time that I started thinking about it was when I was rehabbing with the Tigers down in Florida in 2014," Hanrahan said. "I was down there rehabbing and seeing the young guys from the GCL, the Gulf Coast League, seeing them and seeing how excited they were."
The time spent rehabbing helped Hanrahan bring back a love for the game and also realize he has a lot of knowledge to share after a professional career than spanned 15 seasons, seven of which were spent in the big leagues.
"You look, if there's boxes of what someone's done in the big leagues, I've checked them all," Hanrahan said. "I figured I had some good insight I could drop with the guys and really help with their mental state. It's kind of funny, full circle playing in Erie — they have two or three guys on the team who were in the GCL when I was rehabbing."
All it took was a simple phone call for Hanrahan to rejoin the organization and begin his coaching career.
"I called Neal Huntington one day and told him I was interested. I talked to him after having surgery, realistically what's it going to be like for a guy like myself to come back and get a job playing after being out for three years and two Tommy Johns," Hanrahan said.
Hanrahan, 37, a former second-round pick of the Dodgers in the 2000 MLB Draft, realized the writing was on the wall as far as his career went as he transitioned into coaching for the first time in 2016.
"The adjustment for me was really easy because I know that I can't pitch anymore," Hanrahan said. "I know I'm athletic enough to do some things with the guys on the field, but I know I can't get on the bump and let it eat or my arm is going to kill me."
Knowing his limits and the wear and tear his arm had accrued throughout his career helped make the transition easy for the two-time all-star, but there have still been challenges along the way.
"The hardest part for me is sometimes I feel like I care more than they do, which I know isn't true, but that's been the hardest transition for me, reading these guys' personalities and getting the most out of them" Hanrahan said.
Hanrahan channels some of his former pitching coaches when it comes to how he approaches the art of coaching and it's worked for the former reliever as he's climbed the organizational ladder over the past three years.
"I use the guys I had as coaches: Marty Reid, who's now the Braves' bullpen coach; the late Kenny Howell; those guys, all they did was build you up mentally and made you feel like you had the best stuff that day, that nobody could get a hit off you." Hanrahan said. "That's kind of the mentality I take with the guys out there: Your stuff is good, you belong here. When you're on your game, nobody can stop you. And your stuff is there today, let's get after it."
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