Hafner’s journey from small town to big stage

Travis Hafner grew up in one of smallest towns in the country but is emerging into one of the biggest stars in major league baseball. How small you ask? Well, in Hafner’s hometown of Sykeston, North Dakota, the population is 174 and and his graduating class in high school consisted of a mere eight students. Pronk started out hardly knowing anything about baseball but with his athleticism and strength was able to transform himself into one of major league baseball’s most dangerous hitters.

SI.com writer Albert Chen takes a deeper look into the interesting path taken by Hafner from a raw, unknown kid to major league stardom.

Cowley County Community College baseball coach Dave Burroughs read a scouting report on the bulky Hafner and decided to give him a chance when he was playing high school ball.

When Hafner finally took the field in Arkansas City, Burroughs and his staff soon discovered that their new prospect was as raw as a slice of toro. “One of the first days we were going down to the field to take some fungoes, and I asked, ‘What’s a fungo?'” says Hafner. “When [Burroughs] talked about getting a runner from first to third by going the other way, I figured that was some real top-secret information. I had no idea what he was talking about.”

Despite not picking up the game quickly at first, his power and ability to hit at the plate stood out.

Hafner didn’t waste any time making his mark at Cowley. As a freshman he homered in three consecutive at-bats — “the next one went farther than the last,” says Burroughs — and as a sophomore he led Cowley to a Juco World Series title by smashing a game-winning, three-run homer in the championship game.
“Travis just needed at-bats against good pitching,” says Burroughs. “It was only a matter of time before everything came together. And it came together pretty quickly.”

Hafner eventually was drafted in the later rounds by the Texas Rangers and was traded to the Indians in 2002. Replacing Jim Thome was considered a tough task at the time but Pronk is having no problem putting up huge numbers and winning over the fans.

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