His career was at a crossroads, if not a dead end. He never approached the plate or heard his name called over the loudspeakers in a big league ballpark in 2010.

Jack Hannahan, after spending four less than stellar years in Seattle and Oakland, spent 2010 between the Mariners’ and Red Sox‘s Triple-A affiliates. 

Hannahan then accepted a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians, with an invitation to spring training due to the uncertainty in the Tribe’s infield. In the end, it paid off as Hannahan was named the Indians‘ opening day third baseman.

Despite Hannahan’s great spring—he batted .375 with a .464 on-base percentage—there was a lot more that factored into manager Manny Acta‘s decision.

The third base competition was a four man race heading into spring training, between Hannahan, Jason Donald, Jayson Nix and Luis Valbuena.

In addition to those four, Cleveland fans were also clamoring for top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall to man the hot corner on opening day, and Jared Goedert was coming off a huge year at Triple-A Columbus.

Acta made it clear early that Chisenhall was going to start the year at Triple-A and Goedert suffered a right oblique strain early, all but ruining his chances. As Nix and Valbuena struggled through the month, Donald seemed likely to acquire the starting spot. Then he broke his left hand and would probably have to start the season on the DL.

That left Hannahan, who was signed mostly for his glove, but his newly refined shortened swing has shown the potential for him to raise his .224 lifetime batting average.

“I struggled a little bit, for at least a year and a half, and now I’m trying to really get back to the type of hitter that I am. It’s just shortening my swing down, driving the ball the other way,” he said.

Even if Hannahan hits as well once the season starts, there’s only one thing Acta told him he needed to do to keep his spot in the lineup daily.

“Just be the good defensive player you are and have quality at-bats,” Acta told him.

The 31-year-old vet doesn’t need to hit the ball out of the park consistently for Cleveland to take another step forward towards contention in 2011, he just needs to help the Tribe’s pitchers who induce a lot of ground balls. Hannahan has always been considered an above-average defender, and that asset will be given a warm welcome at Progressive Field, which the Indians have not had in a while.

Despite entering camp with very little to no expectations, Hannahan has been a pleasant surprise for the Tribe thus far, and has earned himself a return to the majors after his one year hiatus.

Finally knowing where his future will take him, Hannahan can relax.

“It’s just a real sense of relief,” he said.

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