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Reliever Brad Hand embraced a bullpen role early in his career and rode it all the way to 10 years of MLB service
By Jerry Crasnick

Brad Hand was born and raised in Chaska, Minn., a Twin Cities suburb that’s home to Hazeltine National Golf Club, the US National Curling Training Center, and a lot of talented athletes who grew up aspiring to play center for the Wild rather than center field for the Twins.

Hand played hockey in the winter months and grew comfortable dishing out and taking checks in the corners during his formative years. But at age 33, he projects more of a SoCal than an upper Midwest vibe. During his tenure with the Padres from 2016-18, he warmed to the San Diego climate and began showing up for pre-game work in a cutoff jersey and sunglasses with his cap turned backwards. It became his signature look over time.

When Hand recently reached 10 years of big-league service time, his fellow Colorado Rockies supported him sartorially and emotionally. Teammates Charlie Blackmon and Mike Moustakas and manager Bud Black said a few words in recognition, and everyone went sleeveless and wore shades in his honor.

“I think there's only like 1,500 people ever to get 10 years,’’ Hand said. “It's a small group, and a lot of guys have played this game. I don't feel like it's set in yet. But when it’s all said and done and you look back, you're going to realize it's kind of special.”


Hand, a three-time All-Star with 131 career saves, reflected on his achievement with the MLBPA after joining Zack Wheeler, Corey Dickerson and Wil Myers as one of four new members of the 10-year fraternity in June. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


What does 10 years in the majors mean to you personally?

It's always your goal to play this game as long as you can, no matter if it’s 10 years or five years. For me, it means a lot. My career didn't start out how I wanted as a starter, and I got an opportunity in San Diego to pitch out of the bullpen and find my role. I’m just thankful to be able to play this game for this long, and I’m going to try to keep it going for as long as I can.

You were a forward for coach Dave Snuggerud, a former NHLer, at Chaska High in Minnesota. How integral was hockey to your athletic development?

If you don't play hockey in Minnesota, it's kind of strange. I loved playing hockey. Me and my dad used to flood our backyard when I was a kid. You just put a tarp down and let the water go in and freeze, and I could go skate in my backyard. That probably helped me as far as my conditioning and my leg strength. Hockey players usually tend to have strong legs. I haven't skated in a few years, but I think I could still do it.

Did you have any hockey aspirations beyond high school?

I think if I dedicated more time to it, I might have had a chance. I was pretty good. I just wasn't as good on skates as a lot of other guys in Minnesota growing up. When everybody else was training for hockey, I was doing baseball stuff. I was the guy that showed up to tryouts the first day, and that was the first time I skated that year.


Do you think your arm might be in better shape now because you played multiple sports as a teenager?

I wasn't throwing all the time growing up in Minnesota, so maybe that's why I haven't really had any serious injuries to my arm. Nowadays these kids are throwing year-round, and I've seen a lot more injuries. It probably helped me out a little bit, for sure.

As a guy who’s spent the bulk of his career in the bullpen, what are the keys to your longevity?

Being a bullpen guy, it can change real quick year to year. I've stayed healthy for the most part. I’ve always been a guy who tried to take care of my body, working out and staying mobile and staying in shape, so I give a lot of credit to that.

You threw six one-hit innings for the Marlins in a 1-0 loss to Atlanta in your big-league debut in 2011, with more than 20 friends and relatives from Chaska in the stands. What do you remember from that day?

It was obviously a special day for me and my family. It was a whirlwind. I got called up from Double-A ball, and I think my mom and sister were in Jacksonville with me at the time, so we all drove down from Jacksonville to Miami together. It was just a cool experience, having all my friends and family there for that day. 

You were a starter before moving to the pen several years into your career. What prompted the move?

I was just bad. I was a bad starter. I made my last start in 2015, and when I got to San Diego in 2016, that was my first full year in the bullpen. I threw in 82 games that year, so I pitched in half the games.


How was that transition for you?

I was used to throwing 100-plus innings a year as a starter, so the 82 games didn't really bother me. At the end of the year, I was neck and neck for games pitched with Zach Duke, the lefty for the Cardinals. I kept telling our manager (Andy Green) that I wanted to pitch in all the games because I wanted to lead the league. Looking back, I’m like, ‘I don't know how I did that.’ I was 26 years old at the time and my arm was feeling great and I was just trying to stay in the big leagues.

Early in your career, which teammates were instrumental in giving you help and guidance?

I was pretty close with Jeff Mathis, our catcher in Miami. He was getting in his 10 years and I was kind of just getting into the league. I’m still good friends with him. Once I got to San Diego, Craig Stammen was a guy who had been around for a while. He helped me with how to pitch in a bullpen and how to prepare.

How important is managing the workload as a reliever?

When you warm up and don’t get into the game, those ones tend to hurt a little bit more. You’ve got to learn how to save some bullets here and there. When you go out and play catch and you've been throwing a lot, just take it a little lighter. It's a long season. It's 162, and you're going to be pitching a lot. Whatever you can do to save some bullets along the way is key.

You made three All Star teams, but you’ve also pitched for six teams since 2020. How challenging has that been, professionally and personally?

Remembering everybody's names every year is the hard thing. You come in and meet all these new people (around the team) and you’ve got to remember their names. Then towards the middle and end of the year, you're finally starting to remember everybody's names, and you go to a different team and relearn all the names. 

Right after the All-Star Game in 2018, I got traded from San Diego to Cleveland. I woke up and I had a missed call from the general manager. I was at breakfast with my wife and I told her, ‘The only reason he's calling me right now is I'm traded.’ I had to fly to Texas to meet Cleveland. She had to fly to Florida, then San Diego to pack up all of our stuff, then back to Florida and then Cleveland. You need to have a good support staff, and I'm thankful that I do. My wife's been on this journey with me and I couldn’t do this without her help.

When you reflect on your time in the big leagues, which moments stand out the most? 

Obviously, making your major-league debut is right up there. And last year in Philadelphia was a lot of fun. When you play this game, it's your goal to be the last team standing. We fell short, but that was one of the best experiences I've ever had -- just that journey through the playoffs, making it to the World Series and pitching in a World Series. That's what you dream about doing as a little kid, so last year was a special year for me. You can’t beat it.

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