SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Parker Hanson was at work on a Wednesday early this month when his phone lit up with a text message from a friend and baseball player: “The Canaries need an arm,” the message read. “Can I tell them you’re good to go?”
Hanson, who uses a prosthetic arm, replied right away: “Yeah, you bet.”
About 30 minutes later, Hanson, a 2015 Hawley graduate, got another message. This time, it was from one of the managers for the Sioux Falls Canaries, a professional baseball team in the American Association, telling Hanson they wanted him to suit up that night.
Hanson completed his senior season at Augustana University in Sioux Falls this spring, and thought his competitive baseball career was over. Instead, he signed his first professional contract.
Hanson was born without his left hand. His arm ends at his wrist, just above where his hand would be. He made his debut that day against Kansas City, and allowed just three hits, with two runs and four strikeouts in six innings for the Canaries.
“Pretty quick turnaround from thinking the career was kind of over to all of a sudden you’re pitching right now,” said Hanson, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound pitcher. “It was exciting. It was a good time, even though it didn’t last long.”
Hanson played one full week for Sioux Falls before an injury brought things to an abrupt halt when he re-tore the UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) in his elbow.
Hanson had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and missed an entire season — one of a string of injuries he dealt with throughout his college career, which began at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minn.
“That kinda put an end to the baseball career; but I was able to say that I did it,” Hanson said. “Injuries are part of life, part of the game. It was sort of a battle of trying to keep the arm healthy, and eventually it just gave out again.”
Augustana head baseball coach Tim Huber said Hanson’s response was typical of who he is and the outlook he has.
“Him and I talked about how he had to, quote unquote, retire because of the injury, and he was just happy he got his opportunity,” Huber said. “From where he came as a young kid dreaming about playing professional baseball, to just get the chance. Like Parker always does, he took the positive aspect of it.”
Loss of prosthetic arm comes full circle
It’s been an eventful few months for Hanson, who found a way to turn the theft of his prosthetic arm a few months ago into something positive.
Hanson’s prosthetic arm and attachments were stolen out of his vehicle in early May — on Augustana baseball’s senior day — and found in a Sioux Falls recycling plant just over a week later. Until he could get the prosthetic limb replaced, which wouldn’t happen until recently, he was forced to use an old arm that was too small for him. Though the arm was recovered, it was unusable.
Hanson’s story went national. Augustana set up a fund to offset replacement costs, which raised $11,500. Shriners Children’s Twin Cities, where he got all his prosthetics growing up, said they would replace the arm for free. Typically, a unit like an arm, is about $10,000, Hanson said.
^This link is where you can go to donate toward replacing my prosthetic I had stolen from my car. Any extra donations will be given to @shrinershosp and @NubAbility which both help kids with disabilities live a normal life! Thanks for all the support! pic.twitter.com/po0KeZJAQo
Hanson, who received his replacement last Friday, July 23, donated the money raised from the initial fund back to Shriners and NubAbility, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for people with limb differences.
“It basically made a really crappy story into a good story,” Hanson said. “I’m thankful I can say it’s over with now and obviously I’m not going to leave my prosthetics in my car anymore.”
Hanson transferred to Minnesota-Crookston, a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference school, for his sophomore and junior seasons. He became one of the program’s top pitchers, and caught the eye of NSIC-powerhouse and competitor Augustana.
In his two-year Augustana career, Hanson posted 38 strikeouts in 31 innings. He appeared in 12 games as a senior this spring and started four as a swingman.
'It just made me who I was'
Hanson didn’t start using a prosthetic until eighth grade. He didn’t like them right away. He thought they got in the way.
“When you’re young, the only use for it is just kind of for cosmetic looks, to make it look like you have another arm,” he said. “For me, I was never big on that. I didn’t care if I had one hand. I actually liked having one hand. It just made me who I was.”
From a young age, Hanson looked up to left-handed pitcher Jim Abbott, who pitched in the major leagues for 10 seasons despite being born without a right hand.
The prosthetic allowed him to hit in high school, and his first year in college. In high school, Hanson was a three-time all-conference honoree and earned all-section honors twice. He also played football for the Nuggets.
“Without the prosthetics, I don’t even know if I would’ve ever made it to college sports,” Hanson said. “Being able to physically put weight on with muscle and lift weights was huge for my baseball career.”
In a perfect world, Hanson would still be suiting up for the Canaries. He’s done playing competitively, though he’ll still play for fun.
“I’m content with the career ahead and making it as far as I did, especially as an underdog,” Hanson said. “Not a whole lot of people when I was growing up thought I’d do that. So just to say that I did it is pretty cool.”
Outside of his day job in Sioux Falls at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Hanson is getting into motivational speaking. His first arrangement is Sept. 2 in Luverne, Minn., and the following weekend at Shriners in Minneapolis. Hanson said any schools or organizations interested in having him speak can reach out to him directly.
“I want to be able to give back to all the people that helped me, and by sharing my story, just helping one person at a time, that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Hanson said. “I was able to look up to Jim Abbott when I was growing up. ... I didn’t make it to the Major League, but I can still say that I played professional baseball in this day and age.”
Editor's note: Hanson played two summers of American Legion baseball for Detroit Lakes Post 15.