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03/25/12 8:00 PM ET

Son's birth changes Hannahan's view of game

Premature delivery helps put baseball life in perspective

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jack Hannahan and his wife Jenny studied the map, plotting the route they would take from Cleveland to their home in Minnesota. It was mid-October and they finally received clearance from doctors to make the trek back with their infant son in tow.

Johnny Hannahan was a little more than two months old, but the situation remained delicate. He was born more than three months premature, and was still in need of special attention and care. The trip ahead of them would require 11 hours of travel under normal circumstances, but these circumstances were hardly normal.

"It was pretty nervewracking," said Jack Hannahan, who plays third base for the Indians. "We were prepared for it to take three weeks if it had to, with not really knowing how he was going to react -- as far as being in the car for that extended period of time."

Hannahan can look back at that offseason journey now with a smile, because the trip went smoothly and so has Johnny's progress in the months since that long drive. Standing inside Cleveland's clubhouse on Sunday morning, Hannahan has a happy and healthy family, as well as a chance to win the starting third-base job for the Tribe.

His experiences off the field over the past eight months helped Hannahan find a new perspective about his place in baseball. When he left the field at Fenway Park in Boston on the night of Aug. 4 and learned his wife -- already on bed rest for more than a month -- was going into labor, baseball suddenly took a back seat.

"It's funny," Hannahan said. "I've had some coaches that tell me that you care too much and you're trying too hard. I really didn't know what they were talking about. Then, all of a sudden, my wife's in the hospital at 24 weeks, and we have a son at 28 weeks.

"It's weird how it takes something like that to really show that baseball is important, but there's other things in life bigger than baseball."

Hannahan's focus was on his family, but he believes that actually helped his performance on the field.

After the Hannahans welcomed Johnny into the world, the third baseman went back to work while his son stayed in the hospital for the next month. Hannahan spent many nights sleeping at the hospital, doing all he could to balance his situation at home with his responsibilities at the ballpark.

A strange thing happened in the process. Hannahan was hittting just .213 at the time of his son's arrival. When he returned to the lineup for Cleveland, though, he posted a .368 average with eight extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in his final 26 games of the season.

"Sure enough," Hannahan said, "you go out there and play your best baseball."

As the season wore on, Hannahan developed a cult following among Indians fans -- going from a non-roster invitee in Spring Training to a fan favorite by the end of the year. He appeared in an MLB Fan Cave music video in which he wore a kilt and an Indians jersey, and was joined by Celtic dancers in New York's Central Park.

The short video clip featured an Irish jig, which included a chant of his nickname: "Supermanahan." With his highlight-reel defensive plays at the hot corner, and his improved showing in the batter's box -- Hannahan hit .250 with eight homers and 40 RBIs on the season -- there was a swell of fan requests for Hannahan shirts at Progressive Field shops.

The way Tribe fans embraced him last season brings a smile to Hannahan's face.

"I go out there and I play hard every day," said Hannahan, who is competing against Lonnie Chisenhall for the starting third-base spot this spring. "That's something the Cleveland fans respect."

Donning the kilt did not hurt, either.

"I think the jig has kind of stuck out," Hannahan said with a grin.

There is more to it than that, though.

When fans heard the story of how Hannahan was able to be in Cleveland for the birth of his son, they began showering his family with gifts and well wishes.

With no commercial flights available that night in August, his Indians teammates collectively chipped in roughly $35,000 to charter a private jet. Hannahan reluctantly accepted their generous gift and arrived at Fairview Hospital with 15 minutes to spare before his wife's emergency Caesarean section.

At 3:11 a.m. ET on Aug. 5, which happens to be Jenny Hannahan's birthday as well, Johnny was placed in his parents' arms.

The Hannahan family was blown away by the support shown by the Cleveland faithful.

"They care about their players in Cleveland," Hannahan said. "Me, being a first-year player here, no one really knowing who I was and all of a sudden going through through something like that, to have all the support from the fans and the organization and my teammates, it's special.

"Blankets. Hand-knitted blankets. Bibs. Cards. Balloons. You name it, and they sent it. You don't see that on every team. It pays tribute to these good, loyal fans that Cleveland has."

That October drive back to Minnesota with Johnny in the back seat went as well as the Hannahans could have hoped. Every three hours, he would stir and they pulled over to feed him and burp him. Once they were on the road again, he was fast asleep in no time.

"Three hours later, we did it again," Hannahan said. "We went right through and he did great."

And Johnny is doing great now, too. He weighed in at more than 16 pounds in his last checkup and has made strides in his development over the past few months.

"He's eating like a horse and he's sleeping great," Hannahan said.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.