For Stephen Hansen and his father, Mark, it’s a family affair when it comes to baseball. And both wouldn’t have any other way.
After completing his senior season with the Bonney Lake Panthers, and being in the full swing with his 18U club team, the Pierce County Diamond Jaxx, Stephen wouldn’t want to spend his spring and summer days doing anything else.
“I love being able to play,” Stephen said. “I didn’t have the best season hitting last year, and we didn’t make it as far as the previous year, but I was happy to be out there with my team.”
Selected to serve as as a captain and a leader of the Panthers, it wasn’t a huge surprise Stephen was selected for such a role for his high school team — even after missing his junior season with a broken hand.
“It was tough missing that year, but I was still out there throwing in the cage for batting practice,” Stephen said. “I wanted to be out there with the guys playing.”
The time Stephen spent on the bench was hard on the former Panther, but he knew there was still his senior season left. Yet, it was Stephen’s father who felt his son’s pain the most.
“It probably hurt me more seeing him miss that year,” Mark said. “I know how passionate he is about playing … I hurt myself and wanted him to have a healthy career.”
But health wasn’t always in the cards for Stephen, who dealt with one injury or another throughout his young life. Breaking his hand was nothing new.
“I’ve been hurt a lot in my life,” Stephen joked. “I was used to it … I’m just happy I was able to finish my senior season.”
Finishing a high school baseball career at Bonney Lake would make any Panther proud to accomplish such a feat. But not every player can claim the same level of personal pride Stephen has for Bonney Lake baseball.
“I feel like the ballfield is a part of me … I take ownership a little because of the work my dad puts into taking care of it,” Stephen said.
There are days, even this week, where anyone will see Mark walking along the Bonney Lake High baseball field, a limp with each step as he mows or fertilizes the field.
“Not many people get to work with this view in the background,” Mark said recently while working at the field.
Even after Stephen graduated in June, Mark still feels pride for his work as Bonney Lake’s groundskeeper. This was his son’s ballfield, and a home to many Panthers who dream of something bigger than just one team.
“I volunteered for this because I wanted these kids to have something to be proud of,” Mark said.
Since coach Mike Olson took over the Bonney Lake baseball program, the Panthers have been a hot team in the Class 3A South Puget Sound League. But not all was right at home.
A few years ago, Bonney Lake’s baseball field had arguably the greatest view of Mount Rainier from the field. But that was about the only attribute this ballfield featured.
“The field was a mess at times … it made it hard to play home games, and I thought we something should be done,” Mark said a few weeks ago while working on the field.
That’s when Mark became the groundskeeper, working on turning a field with brown grass and holes in the outfield to one the Bonney Lake community can take pride in. It became his mission to make this field become something more.
“I see him out there working hard to make that field great,” Stephen said. “It gives you a sort of pride to know that someone close to you cares as much as he does.”
Through the efforts of Bonney Lake’s booster club, the baseball field has transformed. Lights are now installed, allowing for night ballgames.
But there’s a point to how much work Mark can do. There’s goals to be checked off the list, and until they are met, Mark isn’t done just yet.
“We just installed a better draining system that allows the water from rain to keep the field playable,” Mark said. “Before I leave here, I want to put up a flag pole — there isn’t one out there right now. That’s my main goal before I leave.”
It’s the personal touch Mark has left on Bonney Lake baseball. Not many parents put this much effort into a child’s dreams, but Stephen sees it. It’s about pride for this Panther as he continues forward with his own baseball career.
“Not many kids could say that their dad was at every practice — not just games, but at practice,” Stephen said. “I can say that. My dad came to every practice even if I told him he didn’t have to … it’s easy to be proud of what he does for Bonney Lake baseball.”
And as long as that majestic view of Rainier stays, it’s an easy choice for Mark to come out — even on the toughest days.
“The cold days can be tough on the joints, but it’s easy when you have that view in the background,” Mark said, staring off into the distance. “This field has the chance to be something great, and something this school can take pride in.”