- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2018

For the first time since June 26, 2009, Joel Hanrahan entered the home bullpen at Nationals Park.

Hanrahan spent two-and-a-half seasons with Washington, initially as a starting pitcher, then as a reliever before he was traded to Pittsburgh. Now as pitching coach of the Pirates’ Single-A affiliate, West Virginia Power, Hanrahan returned to his first big league club’s stadium Sunday during the All-Star Futures Game as the U.S. team’s bullpen coach.

Looking down the first-base line, Hanrahan said he still recognized faces, despite how much the stadium, the home team and surrounding area had changed since he was a National from 2007 to 2009. A few people said they missed the two-time All-Star, who went on to record 82 saves for Pittsburgh.

“I told them that they’re lying,” Hanrahan said. “Nobody here misses me. I wasn’t very good.”

Even if that was the case, former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden caught up with Hanrahan before the game. After the contest, Hanrahan met his family outside the clubhouse and carried his young son into the locker room.

Despite sporting a 5.30 ERA with Washington in 118 games, Hanrahan enjoyed his return to Nationals Park and to the city that gave him his first shot in the major leagues.

“It was fun sitting down there and seeing how the stadium has kind of changed since then,” Hanrahan said. “I always enjoy talking to Jim. He took a chance on me in ‘07 to bring me in as a starting pitcher. I think I’ll always be grateful for that.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Hanrahan in the second round of the 2000 MLB draft. After six seasons, Bowden signed him as a minor league free agent. That was before the Nationals became a recurring National League East contender. Washington finished second-to-last in the division in Hanrahan’s first season and dropped to fifth the following year.

Now, the Nationals have topped the division two consecutive campaigns, although they have an uphill battle to make it three straight titles. Hanrahan watched the transformation as a member of the Pirates and Boston Red Sox.

“It’s been good watching these guys, you know, they’ve done well with their draft picks,” Hanrahan said. “It takes a lot of good draft picks to have a good team and they took full advantage of those first-round picks that they’ve had in the past. It’s been fun watching them and it never really was that much fun facing them.”

Hanrahan, a Des Moines, Iowa, native, said he watched Nationals starter Jeremy Hellickson, who grew up near Hanrahan, face the Pirates on July 10. Hanrahan said he keeps tabs on Iowans, such as Pittsburgh prospect Mitch Keller, who started for the U.S. team.

After two Tommy John surgeries, Hanrahan retired in 2016 and shifted into a coaching role with Pittsburgh.

His family often travels with him on the road, and while he said “it would’ve been a lot cooler if I was still playing,” he’s glad his son gets the chance to experience his baseball life, which took him back into his former clubhouse Sunday.

“It was easy for me to make the transition cause I know I can’t get anybody out anymore,” Hanrahan said. “I don’t know what the future’s gonna be. I’m enjoying working with the guys that I have right now and I’ll see where that leads me.”

On Sunday, it led him to his former bullpen at Nationals Park, where his new position allowed him to recount his time as a professional to the aspiring big leaguers.

“Yeah,” Hanrahan told them, “I was sitting in this bullpen on day one [in 2008] when this stadium opened. It was pretty cool.”

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