He’s known at the ballpark as such a rough and tough, flame-spewing coach that a former player once believed he might be the meanest man in America.
Roger Hansen, the Seattle Mariners’ longtime catching coordinator and now their major league bench coach, is demanding no doubt. He admits he has never ended a grueling workout session with a catcher wondering if he should have been easier on the kid.
“Not a chance,” he said.
It’s all different at home near Stanwood, where Hansen and wife Lynn nurture their two daughters — 7-year-old Rylie and 9-year-old Madison — along with five goats, a Great Dane, a German shepherd puppy, three cats, 30-40 chickens, gardens and an uncountable number of frogs the kids and dogs like to chase on their five acres.
In truth, the 49-year-old jagged-around-the-edges coach is a pushover at home, especially around the girls. He’s reluctant to admit that, knowing he has an image in the clubhouse to protect.
“I tell people they’re my rented family,” Hansen says.
Those who know him best know better.
“When he comes home, it’s definitely family comes first. None of that tough-guy stuff,” his wife said. “Whatever the family needs, he puts us foremost over everything. I’ll give him a list and he’ll go get groceries, although he might call 10 times and ask, ‘Is this what you want?’
“The girls have him right where they want him. He wrestles with them and they cook together. They love baking bread together.”
They rarely talk baseball, hard as that may be to believe.
Put it this way. None of the animals at home is named Junior or Griffey or Varitek or after any number of the players Hansen has mentored over the years. That may seem surprising because baseball has been the foundation for the family — he and Lynn met at a hotdog stand in downtown Calgary when he played minor league ball there in the 1980s — and given them memories worth bragging about.
Hansen spent the 1988 season as the veteran minor-league teammate/roommate/overseer for budding teen-age star Ken Griffey Jr., and they’ve maintained a special relationship ever since. It’s not something he boasts around his daughters.
“They don’t know who the players are,” he said. “They’ll go to school and some kid will ask, ‘Do you know Ken Griffey Jr.?’ And they’ll say, ‘Who’s Ken Griffey Jr.?’ Now that they’re getting older, they ask more questions, like, ‘Dad, what are you doing down there?’ I’ll tell them, ‘I’m just down there teaching some kid.’”
Longtime friend Andy Bottin, a Camano Island resident and manager of the Mariners’ rookie-level team in Peoria, Ariz., recently gave Hansen’s daughters a photo showing their dad getting a big hug from Griffey in the dugout at spring training. Bottin had Griffey sign a copy for each girl.
“To those kids, I’m Uncle Andy,” Bottin said. “I told the kids about how he babysat Junior years ago and how much the organization cared about Roger and trusted Roger, and ‘When you get a little older I’ll tell you some stories about your dad.’ Roger was ready to kill me for that, but in the big picture he said thanks.”
Since their marriage in 1989, Roger and Lynn Hansen have taken nearly every step of this baseball/family journey together.
They lived in Arizona while Roger worked for the Mariners as a roving minor league catching instructor in the early 1990s. When former general manager Woody Woodward wanted him to manage the Class A Everett AquaSox in 1996, he initially resisted the offer.
“Woody said, ‘I’ll rent you a house on the water,’” he said. “They found a place on Camano Island, and that’s when I met Andy Bottin. It was close to Andy’s house. We liked it so much that we bought five acres up there.”
That’s where the Hansens have remained, on a piece of land near the Kayak Point State Park.
Hansen managed the AquaSox one season, returning to a roving instructor role in 1997 before spending the next three years in Japan as a catching instructor with the Orix Blue Wave.
“When we were in Japan, that’s when we started having kids,” Hansen said.
And even though Rylie and Madison have grown up close to the game, the Hansens try their best to keep it separate.
“You try to have a normal family because you can get consumed with this lifestyle. You don’t want that,” Hansen said. “You want your kids to grow up and be responsible. Sure, they come to the ballpark and do things, but still, they have to live a life — school, chores, the whole thing.”
Living in Snohomish County with the goats, dogs, chickens, cats, frogs and gardens has been a perfect way enjoy life besides baseball.
Last month, Lynn and the girls won several blue ribbons at the Stanwood-Camano Community Fair for their painted rocks, flowers and vegetables. Roger Hansen even won first place for a pink flower although he claimed the entry was made by the family without his knowledge.
“A flower?” he said. “Thanks guys.”
Lynn and the girls also spend a lot of time volunteering at New Moon Farm Goat Rescue &Sanctuary in Arlington.
“They go there and clean up poop and all that,” Hansen said. “When they head out there, they’re bound to come home with another animal.”
Because of his schedule — especially now as the Mariners’ bench coach, taking over last month after former manager Don Wakamatsu and three of his coaches were fired — Hansen’s schedule is hectic even when the team is playing in Seattle.
He often spends the night at a downtown hotel and the girls will join him in the city.
“Where we live, Stanwood-Camano is the country,” he said. “Sometimes they like to come down to go swimming and see the city, but after a few days they’re like, ‘OK, we’re out of here!’”
On the field, Hansen may seem like the opposite of the family man he is at home.
Those who know him say he’s exactly the same caring person — along with some salty language and a workout regimen that will test the physical and mental limits of players. Jeff Clement, a former first-round draft pick who was traded last year to the Pittsburgh Pirates, said he’d heard so many horror stories before he met Hansen that he envisioned him as the meanest man in America.
“Roger holds you to a higher standard and he expects that out of the players,” Bottin said. “He holds you accountable for your actions. If there’s a negative to it, if you betray that, you’re done. There’s very little forgiveness on that side.”
Hansen isn’t afraid to lay his opinion on anyone, whether it’s a teen-age catcher in a blocking drill or an executive in a front-office meeting.
“I’m going to call it the way it is, the way I see it,” he said. “If it happens to be (Mariners CEO) Howard Lincoln or (team president) Chuck Armstrong or ownership, Roger is going to be Roger. There’s not going to be any in-between. I look after the best interest of the club. If I’m doing something (wrong), I’ll air myself out.”
That’s part of the reason Hansen is finishing this season as interim manager Daren Brown’s bench coach. Young player or veteran, he demands accountability.
“If you were to put a tag on somebody, he is the Mariner Way,” Bottin said. “You couldn’t ask for a better guy up there right now to lead as example. He’s going to bark at you if you disrespect this game and don’t stay focused on playing the game the Mariner Way, the right way. I think we need that type of guidance and leadership.”
Hansen, who turned 49 on Saturday, doesn’t know if his current duties will lead to a similar opportunity next year, or even if he’ll return to the catching coordinator job he has held the past eight years. In recent years, he has become a vital member of the player development department under minor league director Pedro Grifol, handling issues well beyond catching.
He and his wife talk every year about when he should leave the game, although Hansen isn’t convinced he’s at that point yet. It always seems like there’s another way to help the organization, another young catcher to work with, he said.
“You can’t leave until you get things finished,” he said. “It has to be finished before you walk out the door. That means winning or getting to a point where we know we are completely stable, and that’s at all levels of the organization.
“When is the time to say you walk away? That’ll be a decision Lynn and I will make. I can tell you that it will be, ‘This is it.’ It won’t be, ‘Well, I don’t know …’ Save all that B.S. because once it’s over, we’ll just go home and get some horses.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog