Brett Hansen returns from Mormon mission to pitch for Vanderbilt

Hansen served his two-year mission in Houston under mission leader and former MLB pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.

Brett+Hansen+pitches+for+Foothill+High+School+in+2018.+Photo+Credit%3A+Susan+Tripp+Pollard%2FBay+Area+News+Group

Brett Hansen pitches for Foothill High School in 2018. Photo Credit: Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group

Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor

Brett Hansen always knew that he would serve a Mormon mission, even as his baseball career took off.

“Since I was five years old, I always made it a priority in my life to go and [serve],” Hansen said. “Baseball is a blessing that I’ve been given; I have the abilities to do things that not a lot of other people can do on a baseball field. At the same time, I do feel like some things take priority. And for me, one of the priorities I had was to serve.”

Hansen was the 12th-ranked left-handed pitcher by Perfect Game in his 2018 high school class. His original college commitment was to Stanford, but fate brought him to Vanderbilt.

“Originally, I wasn’t supposed to come here,” Hansen said. “I was supposed to go to Stanford, but I got denied by the admissions. They didn’t give me a reason, but it was kind of implied that they didn’t want to hold my spot for two years.”

Hansen and Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin got in touch, and the two had a conversation at a restaurant near campus about Hansen’s intention to take two years away from baseball for his mission. Hansen said the conversation was one of the most impactful ones of his life.

“He was very understanding and very compassionate because he’s a man that sees the bigger picture,” Hansen said.

Corbin had never had a player take a Mormon mission or any religious mission before Hansen.

“I was supportive of it, because it was something that was very important to him and his family,” Corbin said. “That servant type of behavior is hard to come by, regardless of what affiliation or religion you believe in. He was so passionate about wanting to do it that I certainly understood that at some point in time, [baseball] was going to be there for him again.”

Before Hansen could serve his mission, he had another difficult decision to make. The San Francisco Giants drafted him in the 38th round of the 2018 MLB Draft. The Giants tried to negotiate a contract with Hansen to have him join their minor league system after his mission. But Brett decided to stick with his commitment to Vanderbilt.

Hansen served his two-year mission in Houston, Texas, speaking Spanish in neighborhoods across the city. His mission leader was none other than Jeremy Guthrie, who spent 15 years pitching in the MLB for five different teams.

Mission leaders make sure their missionaries are physically and emotionally taken care of during their mission, according to Guthrie. They provide housing and spiritual support to the missionaries as well.

Guthrie had to make a similar decision as a pitcher coming out of high school, and he decided to serve a mission in Spain. When Guthrie returned to the United States, he enrolled at Stanford and played baseball there for two years. The Cleveland Indians selected him in the first round—22nd overall—in the 2002 MLB Draft, and he made his major league debut for the team two years later.

The mission had a profound impact on Guthrie’s life on and off the diamond.

“I’m pretty certain that if I started playing professional baseball as an 18- or 19-year-old, without the foundation of what I learned about myself while in Spain, I definitely would not have made it through the minor leagues,” Guthrie said. “I most likely wouldn’t have made it to the big leagues at all, and I certainly don’t think I would have ever had a career in professional baseball.”

Guthrie saw much of the same personal growth in Hansen during their two years together in Houston.

“I saw Brett become a very selfless person, a very caring and thoughtful person,” Guthrie said. “I know that foundation for the rest of his life will make all the difference as a person, baseball player and student.”

During his mission, Hansen was able to work out at a gym for an hour each morning to stay in shape with push-ups, pull-ups and squats. He threw around twice a month to keep his arm pattern.

Hansen and Guthrie even played catch a few times.

“I definitely didn’t give any pitching tips,” Guthrie said. “I was just trying to catch the ball and not die. He was throwing a lot harder than what I’ve been accustomed to.”

Hansen returned home in the summer of 2020, and he began to work his way back into baseball shape to prepare for the upcoming season.

“I came back and my mindset was ‘alright, I can pick up a ball and throw it 95 miles per hour again,’ but that wasn’t necessarily the case,” Hansen said. “I learned the tough way that I needed to take it slow to start, but Coach [Scott] Brown, Coach Corbin, Coach [Chris] Ham and Chris [Matarazzo] were very understanding that I hadn’t thrown competitively in two years.”

Hansen threw in a few of Vanderbilt baseball’s scrimmages in preparation for the 2021 season, but Corbin emphasized that it may take longer for him to be game-ready after two years away from the game.

“I think the timeline is just when he’s ready to compete,” Corbin said. “There’s no expectation. Patience inside our culture is very important right now, to understand that there is a time and place for everything. Everyone runs their own race, and in Brett’s case, his race is just beginning.”