Not many student-athletes have been told to pack fewer textbooks on sports trips. Lars Hanson did. Several times.
“He was hauling this duffle bag around with so many books that he could hardly lift it,” said Christy Lyle, Hanson’s mom.
That sums up Hanson, a dude with a willingness to learn, from philosophy to history and from social sciences to mathematics. He recently graduated from Kodiak High School with a grade point average hovering around 3.8.
“We had to tell him to take a break from studying because you need to get outside and do something fun,” Lyle said. “He said, ‘I am having fun.’”
He applied his study habits to baseball.
As a lengthy young pitcher with command issues, Hanson devoured any self-help baseball books or articles. With the hopes of being the anchor for Kodiak High’s pitching staff this season, he went extra innings with reading. And even when his final prep season was taken away because of the coronavirus pandemic, he continued to indulge in artilces about proper mechanics and the kinetics of pitching a baseball.
“There is a lot more than you think when you initially think about pitching,” Hanson said. “There is a lot I still need to learn, and it is promising to know there is a lot that I can learn because there is a lot of room for me to get better and throw harder.”
Hanson might have an opportunity to grow even more as a pitcher. He is mulling over a scholarship package he recently received from NAIA Bryant and Stratton College in Albany, New York.
Not wanting his baseball career to be over, Hanson had been searching for NAIA schools to attend when Bryant and Stratton College contacted him.
“The coach called me after he saw a video of a bullpen that I threw a couple of weeks ago,” Hanson said. “I think it would be fun to solely focus on pitching and not necessarily having to put my mind on anything else.”
Baseball has been a large part of Hanson’s life since teeing it up as a tee-baller. He used to be a fan of Ichiro and the Mariners, but that changed when Geoff Smith and Lyle adopted him. Smith is a generational Chicago Cubs fan.
The family has routinely made trips to Spring Training in Arizona and has even attended a few games at historic Wrigley Field, home of the Cubbies. A signed Kris Bryant baseball is the prize of his sports memorabilia collection.
“They eventually became my favorite team,” Hanson said.
After bouncing around homes in Washington, Anchorage and Kodiak, Smith and Lyle gave Hanson a permanent home when they adopted him at the age of 10. Before that, Hanson and his older brother Gus lived with their parents, who struggled with drug addictions, and relatives.
Smith and Lyle were friends of the Hanson family and met Lars when he was 6. Not having biological children of their own, the couple — both teachers in the Kodiak school district — welcomed Lars and his kind heart into their home when he was 8.
“It is one of the best things that I have ever done in my life,” said Lyle on adopting Hanson. “It just happened. He just fell into our lives, and he fit. It has been fantastic ever since. It was a complete surprise and the best one.”
Smith and Hanson bonded over playing catch in the yard. That led to Hanson joining Little League, where he became a fixture on All-Star teams. At that time, he was a first baseman masked as an aspiring hurler. He still remembers the first time he threw off a mound in a game.
“I was about 10, and I was awful,” Hanson recalled. “I didn’t throw very hard. I got hit a lot. I was very wild.”
The wildness continued through his high school career, but this season was going to be different. After a rigorous off-season training program that included weights and long-toss, Hanson filled into his frame and was ready to take the next step on the diamond.
“I showed him a few things, what he was doing mechanically. It clicked, and by the second bullpen outing, he was throwing 80-90% strikes and had this look on his face like, ‘Oh my gosh, I totally know how to do this,”’ Kodiak baseball coach Jason Fox said.
Fox, a former college pitcher, was thrilled to learn about Hanson’s desire to continue playing baseball.
“He just really has that interest in the sport, and that will start to grow once he sees it at the college level,” Fox said. “He is one of those kids who is so coachable that he is going to learn so fast and so much — just being in that atmosphere is going to be so cool.”
Before Bryant and Stratton connected with Hanson, Lyle thought she had watched her son throw his final pitch.
“Following your passion is pretty important, and baseball has become a passion for him — it is kind of exciting that he might have a chance,” she said.