When you picked up a baseball and glove as a kid you couldn’t help but think what it would be like to make it to the big leagues. In my era maybe you wanted to be fast and versatile like Robin Yount. Later you wanted to crush the ball like Mark McGuire or Sammy Sosa. As a pitcher you wanted to dominate like Randy Johnson or Nolan Ryan. We all had our dreams of making it to the big leagues and we had a vision of what that would be like. The cheering, money and fame were all parts of the dream. Marcus Hanel of the Milwaukee Brewers made it to the big leagues, but not in his way or his time. God had different plans.
Marcus Hanel is from Racine Wisconsin, and grew up watching the Brewers. He dreamed of making it to the big leagues and at the age of 17 was drafted by the Pirates. He was one step closer to fulfilling “his” dream. During this time Marcus didn’t exactly find the success he wanted. “The lifestyle is fast paced and when you are struggling and dreams are being sort of crushed it was tough when you are not totally on board with Christ.” Marcus said. “I wasn’t a bad or wicked person, but I just wish I had had an identity in Christ so that in the struggles I could have known that no matter what it was going to be okay. If I would have known Him as my savior, I could have just relied on Him and looked at a bigger picture and not have been crushed so deeply when things were not going so well. I would not have gotten so caught up in the world but would have been able to be more level and grounded. And with the joy of Christ you can find true joy.”
After 11 years in the minors, Marcus decided to retire from baseball at the age of 28. “I was newly married and I had put in a lot of time. I struggled at hitting and also by this time I had also begun catching very poorly… which didn’t help! So when I got released I decided to call it quits. I gave it my all and we decided it was time. It was a very difficult decision because it was all I knew, but it was time.” Marcus contemplated becoming a firefighter, but that wasn’t God’s plan. At the same time Marcus was looking to retire, the team he grew up watching as a kid was looking for a bullpen catcher. “There were so many memories growing up watching the games at old county stadium and being fans of Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Jim Gantner and Ben Oglivie I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the Brewers. Now because I am part of this organization I was able to meet those guys I watched as a kid! It was pretty awesome! But when I look back at how the Lord just opened doors along the way, it is pretty amazing! Back in 1998 with the Braves there were a lot of Christians on that team that I went to camp with. I was hanging out with John Smoltz and Paul Byrd and others that were trying to build me up and share Christ with me. And Paul Byrd didn’t make the big league club that year even though he was expecting to do so. He said ‘Alright, God has my platform to share Christ with whoever is at the AAA level.’ I learned that from him and he just shared the love of Christ down there where God had him. I was really bad in 1998 and I was starting to be used to help in the bullpen. I think God was starting to show me what it may be like being able to be a part of a team in this way. The following year I went to Arizona and that was the first time I met a bullpen catcher in the big leagues. I got a chance to talk to him and learn. I wasn’t thinking that I was going to pursue anything like that, but the following winter when I retired… or the game said ‘You’re not good enough!’… That’s when the Brewers had called and asked if I’d like to be the bullpen guy. I said I’d love to! That was 16 years ago.”
Now that God had him in the right position, He wasn’t done refining Marcus. “I came to Christ in 2001 through the Chaplain with the brewers, Wayne Beilgard. I had been a church goer before and was brought up Catholic, but I didn’t have a knowledge as to who He was. As I was going through baseball I started to see some of my teammates looked at life a little differently, and I said man what is it with these guys. I started to lean on them and they started to show me what it meant to follow Christ with your whole heart. I started to attend some chapels and after I was married to my wife we started attending a different church. Then around 911 in 2001, I was reading the left behind series and I was like holy cow! The trade towers fell and I said ‘Oh my God, if Christ was to come today I would be left behind!’. I went to a Bible study on Romans, and that night in November of 2001 I gave my life to Christ.”.
Marcus has been able to serve Christ through his position with the Brewers on a big league stage a lot longer than what most players are able. Marcus has not limited his influence just to the bullpen or the locker room however. Marcus started a program that serves terminally ill and underprivileged children in Southeast Wisconsin called “Koos of Kids”. Koos is a nickname that came from his parent’s German pronunciation of his name Marcus. “I always thought that it would be great to be able to give back to the community when I was a player. We help terminally ill kids get i-Pads to keep up with their friends while they are at Children’s Hospital for example. And we try to make their transition a little different and better. Some families we send on a vacation. We have a challenged baseball league for kids who can’t play in a regular baseball league. We also give out over a 1000 coats in the winter to kids with need. With this we get to go into schools. I can’t preach the gospel but I’m able to share my heart with these kids and my love and what Christ has done in my life. This is the ministry that my wife and I have. The committee we have is great and their heart is for these kids in Southeast Wisconsin. Of course I work with a bunch of guys that are very supportive as well (teammates). And through your show (SportsFaith) and other media, I have been able to get the word out.”
Like many players that were put in Marcus’ path throughout his minor league days, he’s different. When God has a plan, you will be different from what the world may say you should be. For Marcus Hanel, different is good.
To support the efforts of Marcus Hanel and his ministry go to: www.koosforkids.com. On 6.14.15 they will be having their biggest fundraiser at the Milwaukee County Zoo for “Koos for kids”. There will be player signings, auctions, and the fun of the zoo! Visit the website for details.