For someone who pitched for eight minor league affiliates and in four different countries, it’s no surprise to see Bradin Hagens shine on the mound during a pandemic.
Hagens, 31, signed with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Independent Professional Baseball League in early March and he leads the six-team American Association with 30 strikeouts. The right-hander has logged more than 850 innings over nine professional seasons, but he didn’t receive a spring training invitation this season.
His decision to play independent baseball turned out for the best. It is the only professional baseball league currently playing after the Covid-19 pandemic cut MLB’s season to 60 games with 60-player pools. Minor League Baseball was officially canceled on June 30, leaving hundreds of prospects without a chance to play this year.
While MLB is putting together its shortened season set for July 23-24, Hagens is making the most of his opportunity with Fargo-Moorhead. Independent baseball leagues aren’t affiliated with Major or Minor League Baseball, giving players who don’t make or join an MLB organization a chance to play professionally.
“It ended up being a huge relief with the way things worked out,” he said. “I didn’t have a job in Minor League Baseball, so I wouldn’t be here. It’s a blessing in disguise, God had the right path for me so I’d be able to play this year.”
Hagens’ decision to pursue a professional baseball career hasn’t come without sacrifices. Over the course of his career, he’s away from his family for long periods of time. He and his wife, Tasha, have an 18-month-old daughter named Mila.
Each appearance on the mound for Hagens is another opportunity to provide for his loving family.
“It’s a blessing to be where I’m at right now,” he said. “My wife makes so many sacrifices for me to be able to do this. She’s a single parent half the time with me not being there to help her, so it’s one of the sacrifices we made. It pushes me to continue to pitch and go from there.”
The four major professional sports have enforced no fans in attendance when their seasons return. But things are a little different at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo, North Dakota, home of the RedHawks.
A limited amount fans are allowed at the games with social distancing measures put in place. Hand sanitizing stations, plastic shields and masks are enforced when attendees enter the stadium.
Despite the restrictions, the fan experience gives Hagens a sense of a typical baseball atmosphere.
“It’s been a little different with all the requirements and issues going on,” he said. “Opening Night here felt like normal with a crowd so it was fun. … The playing side of things has been normal, it’s nice to get back out there on the mound. For three hours a day, all we get to worry about is having fun and executing.”
On the mound, Hagens is leading the charge for the 5-5 RedHawks. The right-hander has a 1-2 record and 2.94 ERA in four appearances over 18.1 innings. He has surrendered just six walks on the year.
Baseball’s delay gave Hagens plenty of time to hone in on his command. It has translated to a successful start to the season. He pitched a season-high 6.2 innings with nine strikeouts in his last outing against the Milwaukee Milkmen on July 14.
“I’m having that confidence in myself no matter what the count is,” he said. “I’m going to pay attention to what I’m doing and keep making adjustments. … I’m just executing one pitch at a time and taking advantage.”
A change of scenery is nothing new for Hagens. He has played at every minor league level since the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the sixth round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of Merced College. He made his MLB debut with the Dbacks in 2014, but has just two career appearances.
Outside of Arizona, Hagens played two seasons with Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan before his second stint with the Dbacks in 2018. He also played in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico for winter professional baseball leagues over the offseason.
He is currently in his second stint with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
“Playing in Japan is a whole different culture,” Hagens said. “There’s a lot of chanting going on throughout the game. Winter ball is a packed house each night, so it’s special. … Each environment is a bit different, but you can’t let it affect your mind-set out there.”
Hagens totaled three seasons with the Triple-A Reno Aces in 2014, 2018 and 2019. He appeared in 22 games with the Aces last season. Reno was a place of several memories for Hagens as he progressed through the minors, but his most fond memory comes off the field.
During a Fireworks Friday promotion at Greater Nevada Field, the gender of Bradin and Tasha’s daughter was revealed on the big screen for fans in attendance.
“That moment wasn’t even baseball related but it meant a lot to me,” he said. “Having the fireworks made it a special moment for me and my family.”
Minor League Baseball’s cancellation has put the livelihoods of many professional players at stake next season. They endure through the financial struggles over the course of a season in hopes of making it to the next level.
The Covid-19 pandemic was another obstacle for minor leaguers to overcome. As a fellow minor league pitcher, Hagens believes this experience will make prospects tougher in the long run.
“It’s going to be a tough road for a lot of minor leaguers where they’re at in their lives,” he said. “We don’t make a whole lot to begin with, but you still have to be prepared. You have to stay in shape and improve with this pandemic going on, but it can make us stronger in the end.”
As independent leagues continues their season, Hagens continues to build upon each start. He earned another chance and has no plans of stopping any time soon.
“I just want to keep playing,” he said. “If I can keep competing and work to get guys out, then I’m going to play and improve as much as I can.”
— Isaiah Burrows