One of America’s favorite pastimes, both as a spectator and participant, took Roger Hanners from the fields of Canal Winchester to the pitching diamond of professional baseball and into the hearts of players he later coached.
Hanners, the namesake of Canal Winchester’s Roger Hanners Park on Groveport Road, was a hometown boy who always returned to his roots, even when his travels took him to minor league ball fields in the 1950s or throughout the midwest as manager of the Chillicothe Paints baseball team.
A star Canal Winchester High School athlete, Hanners was born on March 4, 1931 and grew up playing sandlot baseball on a field once home to a herd of cows.
"I grew up with Roger in Canal Winchester. He was a really nice guy who was my protector when someone was picking on me. He was also an outstanding player who was way beyond his time," said Bob Miller, a former Canal Winchester High School teacher and coach. "There was only about 1,000 people who lived in the village at the time and several of us lived in the same neighborhood. We’d hop a fence and play on a softball diamond that was a cow pasture. We’d also play basketball in my garage where we used an old fruit basket as a net or go up to the high school, which was always open, and play basketball in the gym."
John Bender said his father was a high school vocational-agriculture teacher who took his son to Canal Winchester ball games to watch Hanners play.
"Canal Winchester had great baseball teams and Roger was a star athlete," remarked Bender. "He is still regarded as the best overall athlete in the district’s history. Roger was a terrific person with a great sense of humor. He was so loyal to this school and community and he was also a great singer."
High school ball fields and courts were Hanners’ home from 1945 to 1949, when he graduated from Canal Winchester. He was a four-year letterman in basketball and the only unanimous selectee his senior year for the All County League team. Football returned to the district in 1947, after a hiatus following a player accident, and Hanners led the team as a co-captain his senior year as the Franklin County League high scorer with 71 points.
The 1993 Canal Winchester Athletic Hall of Fame inductee also lettered all four years in track-setting a central Ohio long jump record-and baseball. Hanners pitched a no-hitter against Mifflin to win the Franklin County baseball championship his senior year and was captain of an All-County team.
"Roger could throw the ball pretty hard and was an all-around athlete," recalled Miller. "He loved baseball from the time he was a kid. It was a lifetime thing for both of us. I went on to college and he played for the Yankees organization."
Hanners’ stint in professional baseball began in 1950 as a pitcher for a series of Yankees’ farm teams and ended in 1953 following a career-ending injury.
"He came back home to Canal Winchester and worked for a sporting goods store and then a radio station," continued Bender, "and he and Bob Miller started Little League ball in Canal Winchester. His brother was a great athlete, too, and his wife was wonderful lady. He and his family cared so much for this community."
Hanners served as the Chillicothe Paints-a professional summer baseball team owned by his son, Dr. Chris Hanners-manager from 1993 to 2000, traveling throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri. He was named Frontier League Manager of the Year in 1993 and his #50 jersey was retired following his departure after a series of heart attacks. He passed away on Jan. 24, 2002.
Thousands of players and hundreds of teams pass by the Roger Hanners Park sign on their way to and from games. They continue a legacy started by a hometown boy whose love of the game took him far away and back again, never straying far from the community he loved.