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College baseball: Former UMD skipper ‘HB’ Hanna reflects on fading era of multisport college athletes

Cloquet’s Pokornowski proves you can excel but it’s not without challenges.

Hanna.jpg
Scott 'H.B.' Hanna.
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DULUTH — Former longtime Minnesota Duluth baseball coach Scott “H.B.” Hanna remembers sitting in the dugout in the early 1990s keeping a closer eye on the time than normal.

That’s because Derek Plante, the future NHL hockey player who also happened to play baseball for UMD, had a plane to catch.

“Plante was great,” Hanna said. “We played down in Winona (Minnesota) and he was flying to Finland or something, so we kept an eye on the watch and shagged him off the field when it was time for him to get to the airport. It was crazy. He could do them both (hockey and baseball). He worked it out.”

The multisport athletes who played baseball for Hanna at UMD read like a who’s who of the best of Bulldogs athletics, but the era of multisport athletes in college is fading. UMD baseball and football player Tim Pokornowski, who like Plante hails from Cloquet, is one of those keeping that tradition alive.

It’s a long list, but in addition to Plante with hockey, Hanna had football players Mike Petrich, Superior’s Greg Aker and Cloquet brothers Tim and Steve Battaglia, among others, playing baseball for him. He also had basketball players such as UMD Athletics Hall of Famer Barry Fermanich.

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Hanna, too, was a multisport athlete at UMD, playing both football and baseball for the Bulldogs in the early 1970s.

“When I did it, it was easy-peasy because football was over in November and you didn’t do anything again till August,” Hanna said. “You didn’t have winter lifting or running or meetings or nothing, so it was easy. The commitment they have to make now is year-round with sports. Football is year-round, hockey is year-round.”

Hanna said not all UMD coaches approached this the same. Some, but not all, were cool with it. Legendary Bulldogs football coach Jim Malosky was the best. Hanna, who also was an assistant coach with the UMD football team, would sometimes form a tag team with Malosky if they knew a prospective recruit wanted to play both sports.

“That was to seal the deal,” Hanna said. “Some other schools weren’t going to allow them to play both sports but we would. You have to have both coaches on board or it’s not going to work. If they’re not both on board, it gets awkward. Malosky was great. For a long time we didn’t have spring ball so he didn’t care. Even when we had spring practice, he was OK with it.”

With little to no scholarship money for baseball, but some for football, Hanna made a living off that, coaching successful Bulldogs baseball for 27 years.

“I’ve had some dandies,” Hanna said. “All those guys I’m talking about won a lot of baseball games for UMD, I’ll tell you that.”

Pokornowski said UMD coach Curt Wiese and his staff have been really good in regards to allowing him to play both sports.

“It’s awesome to have that support,” Pokornowski said. “I do a little bit of extra lifting (in the spring), and other than that, I just have some meetings with the coaches, going over film sometimes and that’s about it. Otherwise, it’s basically stick to baseball.”

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Hanna scoffed at the notion that spring ball is necessary for all athletes. Some athletes are more refined and polished than others, not needing all the so-called development. Plus, perhaps sometimes a break, or just doing something else, is actually a good thing in terms of avoiding burnout.

“Like the Battaglia brothers,” Hanna said. “They didn’t need to go to football practice in the spring. They were great athletes. They weren’t going to advance just because they’re going to spring ball. That wasn’t going to make them a better football player.”

Hanna continues to follow UMD baseball and called Pokornowski a “heckuva player.” He said all his multisport athletes had one thing in common.

“These guys played baseball because they loved the game, pure and simple,” Hanna said. “They had to sacrifice a lot and make another commitment to a sport. Like with Derek Plante and all them, they’d get done with hockey that Saturday, and they’re beat up. So they would take a day off, that Sunday, and come to baseball Monday morning. That takes a special kid to do that.”

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnew.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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