Monday, August 6, 2012
Travis Hafner made his Major League Baseball debut on this date in 2002, playing for the Texas Rangers. One of only fifteen North Dakota natives to play in the Major Leagues, the designated hitter has garnered the most home runs for a player born in the state.
Born in Jamestown in 1977, Hafner grew up on his parents’ farm outside of Sykeston. Although the Sykeston High School had no baseball team, Hafner honed his skills batting rocks behind his father’s grain bins. In a class of only eight students, Hafner shined in basketball and track and field. After graduating as valedictorian in 1995, he tried out for the Atlanta Braves in Bismarck. Although impressed, the Braves offered only a $1,000 signing bonus. Hafner decided to take a scout’s advice and play college ball, enrolling at the Cowley County Community College in Kansas. He quickly made his mark, hitting three consecutive home runs during a freshman game. The following year, he shined when he hit a three-run shot during the Juco World Series, earning him the title of Juco MVP.
Although the Texas Rangers picked him up in the 1996 draft, Hafner was, for once, slow to make an impression. The Rangers’ line-up already featured a score of power-hitters, and it wasn’t until August of 2002 that Hafner was called upon to play in the Major Leagues. Only five days later, the newly-minted hitter cracked his first home run.
During his first spring training with the Major League team, he picked up a nickname, ‘Pronk’ – a combination of ‘Project’ and ‘Donkey,’ due to his size, strength, and ‘donkey-like’ gait. The name stuck, and today Hafner prefers Pronk to his own name.
In 2002, Pronk was traded to the Cleveland Indians. Although he suffered from a number of injuries, including broken toes, wrist surgery, and a fractured hand, Pronk continued to post strong numbers. Named 2005 Indians ‘Man of the Year,’ the team named a section of Jacobs Field ‘Pronkville’ in his honor.
In 2006, a Cleveland candy company unveiled a Pronk candy bar in his honor. Eaten before Indian games by Cleveland players, you can find them for sale closer to home at the Wild Mustang Saloon in Sykeston, home to “Pronk’s largest fan club west of the Mississippi.”
And in 2007, Hafner signed a 57 million dollar contract that will keep him in Cleveland through this season.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme Job
Lidz, Frank. January 29, 2007. “Pronk of the Plains,”Sports Illustrated.