NASHVILLE, Tenn. - When Lipscomb Baseball senior infielder Hunter Hanks struggled at the beginning of the season, he was understandably frustrated. His batting average sat just above .100 and he lost his starting shortstop role. To further complicate the situation, Hanks had to leave the team for a few days to tend to a family matter in late February.
In reality, Hanks knew the hurdles on the diamond were secondary because he knew just how lucky he is to be alive.
After celebrating New Year’s at home in Jacksonville, Florida, Hanks and his girlfriend - Arika Stovall - drove back to Nashville on the first night of 2016. Hanks fell asleep at the wheel on I-24 while coming through Murfreesboro and woke up just as his Toyota Tundra veered off the road.
“My eyes opened just as we were heading for a set of bridge pillars,” Hanks said. “I remember trying to go around the pillars as well as I could. It’s a miracle that we walked away from it.”
The truck was completely destroyed and resembled a heap of scrap metal more than a vehicle. Amazingly, both Hanks and Stovall suffered only minor injuries in what should have been a deadly crash.
In the last 16 months that followed, Hanks’ outlook on life has shifted. His focus has turned towards cherishing time with loved ones rather than obsessing over his batting average.
“I can be upset about a bad day at the plate and leave the field frustrated, but I probably shouldn’t be here right now,” Hanks said. “My appreciation for the small things in life has grown, and I’m thankful to get to spend more time with my family and friends.”
Luckily for Hanks, his family are frequent visitors to Middle Tennessee despite the 550-mile trek from Baker County, Florida. That’s partially because his parents, Heather and Marty Hanks, have not one, but two sons in Nashville. Hunter has spent his college years living with his older brother Blaire, who is an up-and-coming country music artist.
“It’s not like I’m going to college with my brother, but being able to live with him during my college years is so much fun,” Hanks said. “Being able to watch him succeed with music and him being able to watch me on the field is something special.”
Blaire first moved to the Music City in 2012 and has since released over a dozen songs. His song “In Her Eyes” is approaching one million streams on Spotify and he also released a new single called “Always Be Home” on April 21.
Having Blaire in town was a major plus when Lipscomb offered a scholarship to the younger Hanks. Hunter soon traveled to Nashville to visit Blaire and check out the school.
“Once I met the coaches, saw the facilities, and felt the family atmosphere, I jumped on it,” Hunter said. “Coach Forehand genuinely cares about his players and that’s hard to find.”
Hanks has gone on to be a key cog for the Bisons, thanks in part to his versatility around the infield. He began his career at third base before moving to shortstop in 2016. After struggling at the dish to begin this season, he lost the starting job to JUCO transfer Blake Thomas.
Rather than coast through his senior season on the bench, Hanks remained determined to get back on the field.
“I told myself that once I got back in the lineup, I’m not coming out,” Hanks said. “When I got my chance, I took advantage of it.”
Hanks made the seamless transition to second base and regained his spot in the lineup on March 18. During the North Florida series in early April, he caught fire and went 7-for-12 with two home runs and six RBI.
“I can’t say enough about Hunter,” Lipscomb baseball head coach Jeff Forehand said. “He’s made the most of his opportunities and he’s playing as well as anyone on the team right now.”
Hanks is hitting .292 with five home runs and 25 RBI as of April 25. Fourteen of his 28 hits have gone for extra bases to produce a staggering .563 slugging percentage.
While he’s not sure what lies ahead after graduation in May, Hanks has thoroughly enjoyed his experience at Lipscomb and has his sights set on closing his college baseball career with a bang.
“Lipscomb has been amazing,” Hanks said. “From the athletic office to the professors, everyone cares about each other. Coach Forehand wants to build us into better men, because baseball doesn’t last forever.”
Forehand says his work only builds what has already been molded by the players’ family.
“Hunter is a perfect fit for Lipscomb,” Forehand said. “The Hanks parents are involved in all of their kids’ lives. The backbone of every kid is their family.”
Fortunately for Hanks and his family, his story did not end with that horrific accident last year. One of the few salvageable items from scene of the wreck was Hanks’ Bible, which happened to be marked on a certain page.
“The page was open to a verse that essentially said ‘I’m not done with you,’” Hanks said. “I have no clue what’s next, but God will open the doors that he wants opened.”