Hansen’s homer helps lift Steamboat baseball and cap turnaround season
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Theodore Hansen, a senior on the Steamboat Springs High School baseball team, has saved the ball from every home run he’s ever hit.
He takes them home from the ballpark and makes notes on them with a black pen, the date, the place, his best guess at the distance and anything else relevant. There have been 21 of them, all tucked away in a drawer in his bedroom, mementos from a childhood playing baseball in a place where you’re, generally speaking, not supposed to play baseball, where you’re lucky if the fields dry out by May, where you learn to take batting practice in the school’s gymnasium and practice stealing a base on the track around the football field.
He’ll certainly have some notes to make on the ball he blasted Tuesday evening.
Hansen launched a two-run home run to straightaway center field in the top of the seventh inning of the second game of a doubleheader against Summit, throwing his weight behind a last-inning rally that lifted the Sailors over the Tigers to cap a doubleheader sweep.
Steamboat won the first game, 6-4, after scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. It then won the second game, 14-8, scoring six runs in the top of the seventh.
They did it all on their home field, their only actual games in Steamboat Springs this season and two of just a handful of high school games this year’s senior class ever got to play at home.
The wins carried even more meaning than that, however. The Sailors entered the day needing just one win to secure their first winning season in more than a decade. With two victories, they finished the season with an 11-7 record, one of the best in program history.
“Everyone says baseball in Steamboat isn’t a thing,” Hansen said. “We proved them wrong this year.”
Up from the bottom
The wins capped a season that featured a huge turnaround for the Steamboat program, on seniors like Hansen, Jack Boyle and Quintin White rode, almost to their own amazement.
The team went 6-13 their freshman season, then 2-14 and 3-15 in the next two seasons.
There were plenty of tough moments. The team had to forfeit two games in 2016, a season in which it gave up an average of 15 runs per game and lost one particularly miserable contest 38-0.
Things were better last season, but only marginally so, and it entered this spring without a league win in two full seasons, 0-27.
McRight said progress was buried in those losses, however, progress that began to truly show on the scoreboard this season.
“This is not just a one-year thing,” coach Rusty McRight said. “This has been going on for the last three years. Looking at statistics since 2016, every statistic, base stealing, fielding percentage, strikeouts, all of that, has improved every year. It says a lot about this team.”
Other factors weighed in, as well, from an increasingly strong youth baseball program in Steamboat to a trio of seniors who’d seen the downs and refused to see any more.
The team started the season with a weekend-long road trip to Colorado Springs. The squad rents a house for the trip every season, and the whole lineup piles in, even if it means a few freshmen end up on air mattresses on the floor. This year, those seniors stood up with a message.
“Whenever we showed up to a game, we were supposed to lose,” Hansen said. “We were the laughingstock of the entire state when it came to baseball. But this year, down in Colorado Springs, we said we’re going to change things.”
The season started with two lopsided wins in which the Sailors scored 24 runs and didn’t give up any. Steamboat lost to Basalt by one run, a team it lost to the season before by 12, and it lost to Glenwood Springs by a run, a team it lost to the season before by 19. The team lost five straight, but there were all dramatically closer than in years past, then it won three of four midway through the season and finished 2018 winning nine of 11.
Steamboat still fell short of the state playoffs, locked in at No. 44 in the RPI rankings, but ended up third in the Western Slope league, the first season since 2014 it finished anywhere but last.
The big finish
The two wins against Summit capped that run.
White logged two RBIs and Hansen scored two runs in the first game to set up the 6-4 win. White also pitched a strong game, racking up six strikeouts, and sophomore Ethan Johnson came on late to close it out, taking the last four outs.
Hansen then scored four runs in the second game, White three, Boyle, Colter Gansmann, Tanner Ripley two and Alan Duty one. Boyle also pitched 5-1/3 innings and tallied nine strikeouts.
Hansen made it home on a sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth to give the Sailors a two-run lead, but Summit’s Tuner McDonald launched a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning to tie things, 8-8.
Ripley then got things started in what proved to be a decisive inning for Steamboat, leading off with a triple. He scored on a sacrifice fly from George Cook to give Steamboat the lead. Hansen then came up again, the game still in the balance, stepping in for the last at-bat of his career as a Sailor.
It’s not been a smooth ride, even by Steamboat baseball standards.
He missed a big chunk of his freshman season with a concussion, then missed much of his sophomore season for the same reason. He broke his thumb during the first practice of his junior season and had to play in pain all year.
He was healthy all through this spring, however, and ready. He fell behind 0-2, then fouled off a curveball to stay alive. The next pitch was a fastball just outside and he connected.
Later, he walked away from the team’s postgame huddle grinning wide when his dad, Jim Hansen, hollered from nearby.
Theodore looked up and stretched out his arms to catch the ball, his home run ball his dad had hiked around the field to retrieve.
He’s had to hike after plenty of his son’s home run balls through the years, fewer in high school but still enough all through his career to fill that drawer.
Theodore caught the ball, kissed and pulled it down. He was already thinking about what he’d write.
He’d scratch the date, “May 8.”
He’d write how far it went, and he’d make a note of Summit’s pitcher, James Falcone, a friend.
And maybe he’ll note this particular ball had helped win a game on what’s been a very rare occurrence in the last decade: a huge day for Steamboat Springs High School baseball.
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