When given a chance to select his uniform number, Jon Hansen asked for No. 16.
Cracking the starting lineup as a sophomore, the young third baseman decided to claim the number as his own. He’s worn it throughout his three years on the Cherry Hill East High School baseball team.
It was just personal preference at the time. But given its current significance, one can’t help but wonder if it was destiny.
Joe Davis also wore No. 16. The 1976 graduate was a standout infielder under former longtime coach Dave Martin, finishing with a .351 career batting average. He batted .420 as a senior, with seven doubles, three triples and seven home runs among his 42 hits as the Cougars won the South Jersey Group 4 title.
Davis would play two seasons at Penn State-Abington before finishing his career at Glassboro State (now Rowan). He was on Glassboro State’s 1979 NCAA Division III national championship team.
“Joe was one of the hardest-working players in the history of the program,” said Martin, who stepped down following the 2005 season after 32 years with a 502-286 career record — one of only five coaches in South Jersey history with better than 500 wins.
“He truly led by example. He wasn’t a rah-rah guy, just very intense. It was a controlled intensity. It was his aggressiveness on the base paths, his work ethic and desire to excel. He was a team player and just loved the game. He was the kind of kid that if you ever saw him you would just be so impressed. He sprinted everywhere. He was a joy to coach.”
Sadly, Davis died last month after battling cancer.
The Cherry Hill East baseball family will honor the South Jersey Baseball Hall of Fame member on Saturday, May 9 by retiring his number prior to a nonleague game against Millville.
In turn, Hansen will be the last player to wear No. 16.
“I didn’t know he wore 16 until this year,” Hansen said. “His name is in the record book everywhere. (Martin) always reminds me about him. It’s a huge honor to be the last one to wear it.
“It’s pretty big. He was such a highly praised guy at East. It definitely feels different to wear the number now.”
Ironically, Hansen is quite similar to Davis.
“His work ethic and desire to excel in so many ways reminds me of Joe,” said Martin, now an East assistant. “Jon is a quiet leader, leads by example. He’s the ultimate team player and will play anywhere and do anything for us.
“The kids and coaches all have total respect for him. What he brings to practices and games every day is a uniqueness. It’s hard to explain, but Jon has it, whatever it is.”
Headed to George Mason University, Hansen was an All-South Jersey selection last season. He batted .489 with six doubles, a triple, two home runs and 22 RBIs.
Opponents are pitching around him this spring. Hansen is batting .303 (10-for-33) with five doubles, a triple and one home run. He’s walked six times, including five against Camden Catholic on Wednesday.
“He’s third in our order and our best player,” coach Erik Radbill said. “He’s not seeing many pitches and is starting to press a little bit at the plate. But he’s the leader of this team, absolutely.
“Jon’s baseball instinct is just off the charts and he epitomizes everything that’s good about our program. His hard work, he’s soft-spoken, he leads by example — all of the things I hear Coach Martin say about Joe Davis. As far as character kids, they don’t come any better than Jon. He’s a student, an athlete; a young man you want your kids to emulate.”
Hansen doesn’t believe there’s pressure on him to lead the team this spring. Although his numbers are down from a year ago, he’s confident in his abilities and eager to help Cherry Hill East regroup from its 3-6-1 start and put together a run that can get the Cougars into the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs.
“We can be so much better than we are,” he said. “There are just some minor things that need to be fixed, and if they’re fixed we can be a real threat. I don’t think it’s unrealistic.”
In his last season, Davis led the Cougars to a sensational finish. With similar characteristics, maybe this year’s No. 16 can do the same.
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2432; firstname.lastname@example.org