BYU grad goes for major dreams in minor leagues

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Julie Taggart Photography
Jacob and Shayli Hannemann spent their spring and summer months in Tennessee with the Smokies, the Chicago Cubs Double-A team. (Shayli Hannemann)

Shayli Hannemann and her husband Jacob had just settled into a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina apartment when she received a call from her husband informing her they were moving again. Jacob was being called up to the Chicago Cubs Double-A team, the Tennessee Smokies.

The news came as a surprise to both of them. Before everything could settle in, Jacob was on a plane to join his new team and Shayli was left to pack and move their lives to Tennessee.

“It’s hard not knowing what is going to happen,” Shayli said.

But not knowing is nothing new for the Hannemanns.

The Kansas City Royals drafted Jacob after he graduated from Lone Peak High School in  2010. He had to choose between serving a mission for the LDS Church and continuing his education or taking a chance at a professional baseball career right out of high school. Jacob rejected the draft and accepted a full-tuition scholarship to play baseball and football for BYU. The scholarship was held for Hannemann while he served a two-year mission in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“This was the hardest decision of my life, up to that point,” Jacob said.

Jacob enrolled at BYU in 2013 and immediately made an impact for the baseball team.

He started in all 51 games for the Cougars and finished the year with a .344 batting average, five home runs, 29 RBI and seven triples. He also stole 14 bases and had a .975 fielding percentage.

The Chicago Cubs drafted Jacob with the No. 75 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. He was offered a $1 million signing bonus – a rarity for players selected after the first round.

“I wanted to take my talents to the next level,” Jacob said. “And this was my opportunity to do it.”

Chasing professional goals requires sacrifices of time, education and family. The Hannemanns decided to face those challenges together.

Major League Baseball has the longest professional season – 162 games that stretch from February to October. Minor league teams have shorter schedules, but not by much.

Jacob played in 140 games last season. Shayli never missed one. While she acknowledged that the lifestyle is sometimes “lonely,” she said it was more difficult to watch Jacob go through slumps.

“It’s hard to see (him) struggle and not be able to do anything about it,” Shayli said. “I can’t just go hit a home run for him.”

Jacob’s family thinks Shayli sells herself short. Jacob’s father, Howard, said Shayli is an incredible influence for his son. “She knows how to help Jacob understand how to deal with the failure and politics that are part of playing baseball,” Howard said.

With Shayli’s support, Jacob is finding success in the minor leagues. He’s played with six teams in the Cubs’ farm system and has a career .249 batting average with 15 home runs, 16 triples and 103 RBI. But things aren’t easy for the Hannemanns.

A typical day begins around 10 a.m. with morning prayers. Then they eat a big breakfast. By noon Shayli drops Jacob off at the field to stretch, practice and prepare for his game. She spends her afternoon as a nanny and tries to make friends with other baseball wives. Games typically start at 7 p.m. and don’t finish until late at night. The next day they do the same thing. Jacob and Shayli live like this all season long.

“It takes a lot of support to reach your dreams,” Jacob said.

BYU center fielder Jacob Hannemann rounds the bases after hitting a homerun in the fifth inning against UVU on Tuesday at Miller Field. (Photo by Chris Bunker)
Jacob Hannemann rounds the bases after hitting a home run in 2013. Hannemann is hitting .250 in his minor league career. (Chris Bunker)

Some of that support is coming from his parents, who always pushed him to follow his passion.

“If you don’t have a passion, you may not be as successful, even if you may be more naturally talented,” Howard said.

Currently, Jacob is the No. 28 prospect within the Cubs organization. Baseball America described him as a “high-risk, high-reward” pick. At 24-years old, he’s older than his teammates, but his “well-above average” speed and strength give him the athleticism the Cubs are looking for.

While his physical gifts give him an upper-hand, Howard said it’s about hard work.

“I’ve always taught my children that the harder you work, the luckier you become,” Howard said. “And then take that luck when you get it.”

Jacob takes this advice to heart. He’s often one of the first to the ballpark to practice. He works on his swing constantly. He works in the outfield. Now he’s seeing it pay off. He’s been featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays on four different occasions. But he’s focused on looking ahead.

“When opportunities come it’s my responsibility to be ready for them,” Jacob said.

Regardless of what’s coming for the Hannemanns, Shayli is confident they’ll be ready. They’re saving Jacob’s signing bonus as a “plan B,” and they’re focused on staying positive.

“The best way to live life is to be happy with what change brings,” Shayli said.

 

 

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