"I Like it Here"
By: Phil Gray, Chillicothe Gazette
Chris Hanners has said it before.
“I like it here.”
It’s been a pretty standard answer for the Paints owner over the years, even if the context has changed. He’s been quoted, in different publications and in different media, saying the same thing about one question or another since, probably, the Paints were digging the foundation of the franchise two decades ago.
And if there’s ever been any proof needed about just how honest he’s being with those four words, repeated to different writers and different interviewers over the years, it’s going to play out as this summer stretches on.
This is the 20th season of Paints baseball. The franchise has survived as one league outgrew it, and another grew around it. The franchise has survived through a grass field that lived long past its prime, and thrived once the money for the turf came through. It survived as big money began to take over one particular corner of baseball, then was reborn as an example of how things should be done in another corner.
And it’s all because of those four words.
“I like it here.”
As a rule, Hanners doesn’t give away a lot. He’s genuine, but he genuinely doesn’t seem to let a lot of things – baseball things, at least – get through. Hanners is a big-picture guy, somebody who understands that the game of baseball really is just a game.
“It’s pretty neat,” he said early in an interview about his team’s 20th year. “I don’t think about it. What I’m doing is just trying to get ready for Thursday (the home opener). Our goal is to have the best college-age team in the country, not the second-best. That’s what I’m thinking about right now.”
Still, as the idea settled in, even Hanners – who is tough enough to read across the table in an interview; if a deck of cards was involved, he’d probably be outright impossible – warmed up to the idea.
Twenty years is, after all, a long time. In a small town. Where baseball probably shouldn’t have survived 10 years, let alone 20.
“Hopefully we’ve given our kids a good experience,” he said. “And hopefully we’ve given the fans some memories. That’s what I’m always anxious to do, to give the fans a memorable experience.
“We’ve had some really good baseball players here, and some really good guys. I think we’ve touched a lot of lives. Obviously, we’ve had some success with that, when you look at the kids who have come through here who have gone on to make it in the (minor leagues). That says a lot, doesn’t it?”
That list is a long one, and it has its roots in the dirt that is still somewhere under the layer of turf that tops the field. It’s the same dirt where guys like Tollberg and Gator, Cervenak and Hampton all sunk their cleats while stretching baseball just a little bit longer than the rest, to have their personal big picture be about baseball.
Hanners also said the right things during the interview for this story. He stopped at one point to mention his staff – the folks who have been with him since the beginning – by name, and he stopped at another to encourage folks at the ballpark to take a look around at the signs and the ads around the field because, “…the sponsors have made it possible over the years.” He also praised the VA, and its administration. “We can’t do anything without the VA,” he said.
And all those things are important, to be sure. But all of it plays a part in is just another part of that four-word reality of 20 years of Paints baseball.
“I like it here.”