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KC Cougars

Marriage dovetails with baseball for some at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark

Jake and Shayli Hannemann, who have been married since September 2013, stayed at the St. Charles home of Eric and Rachel Kingston during Jake's time as a Kane County Cougars player.
Jake and Shayli Hannemann, who have been married since September 2013, stayed at the St. Charles home of Eric and Rachel Kingston during Jake's time as a Kane County Cougars player.

GENEVA – Before they were married, Jake Hannemann and his wife, Shayli, dined out and saw “Moneyball” on their first date.

“It was good. It was really good,” Jake Hannemann said. “And then everything else happened from there.”

Beating out Brad Pitt was just the start for Hannemann, then an outfielder at Brigham Young before joining the Cubs organization. Nearly 11 months into his marriage, he discovers many challenges both at and away from the ballpark.

The Cougars’ more recent newlyweds, infielder David Bote and his wife, Rachel, were married in November. Whether now or over time, the secret to their success doesn’t differ.

“[Rachel] is wonderful support,” said Bote, who has shuttled this season between Kane County and Short-A Boise, where he was re-assigned Thursday. “And it’s great to have her.”

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark’s de facto players’ wives section, 108, rests behind a screen on the first-base side, close to the Cougars’ dugout. On a given night this summer, the chatter from Rachel Bote and Shayli Hannemann – whose husband was promoted Wednesday to Advanced-A Daytona – mostly remained straightforward. There’s baseball, of course, their surroundings and pop culture – the fun stuff compared to what these women discussed with their husbands before saying “I do.”

Most minor leaguers earn $3,000 to $7,500 annually, per a recent St. Louis-based study, and a future spot on a parent club’s 40-man Major League roster is far from guaranteed.

David and Rachel Bote – 21 and 23, respectively – met at their Christian church in suburban Denver. Fixed up on a blind date, Jake and Shayli Hannemann – 23 and 21 – are active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Consider that a sound leadoff toward the full realization of one of matrimony and baseball’s mutual bedrocks: faith.

“I knew what I was getting into, and in a lot of respects, David had already played a full season,” Rachel Bote said. “And I was excited for an opportunity to come along and be there with him to support him. And him just being able to have someone there by his side. And just seeing through it and getting to share the experience with him.

“I knew there were times where we’d be apart, but I’d also look forward to the times that we’d get to be together and share this fun experience together.”

Bote and Hannemann both juggle their domestic lives with the demands of a full professional season. Sure, most home games at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark begin at 6:30 p.m., but players must arrive several hours earlier to prepare, then perhaps stay for a time after the final out.

When their wives don’t travel for road trips – Shayli Hannemann had done so more often than Rachel Bote – Bote and Hannemann also know they can’t spend every moment corresponding by call or text. Much of the minor league experience involves male bonding – traveling the country, swapping stories, watching TV, playing cards – and their 23 unmarried teammates sensed their married counterparts understood that.

“I mean that’s cool they’re already married,” outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr. said, “but no, just normal guys, still.”

Bote (18th round, 2012) and Hannemann (third round, 2013) entered the Cubs’ system at different times with different expectations, but share the early stages of their marriages as friends.

They lockered next to one another for the first two months of the season in the latest case of marriage by numbers. Hannemann wears jersey No. 4, while Bote was No. 5; the Cougars’ clubhouse is organized accordingly.

“A miracle,” Bote grinned.

On June 10, a roster move sent Bote from the Class-A Cougars to Short-A Boise, where he also spent time in 2013. As Rachel Bote visited family in Colorado, her plans to join her husband in Idaho never took root, as the Cubs transferred David Bote back to Kane County 10 days later. She followed soon after.

First-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber, since promoted to Daytona, took No. 5 in the interim, but Bote stayed nearby when he chose No. 2.

Rated by Baseball America as the Cubs’ organization’s best athlete and fastest baserunner entering 2014, Hannemann doesn’t need the transaction wire to know things can get shaky, bolstering his appreciation for his wife.

“We had to go through adjustments just like everybody else does,” Hannemann said. “I mean, she finds stuff to do while I’m out here practicing before the game, but she comes to every game and supports me. I’ll send her home [to Utah] every once in awhile just to catch back up with family and stuff, because it’s hard. Sometimes she has nothing to do when I’m out here at practice and stuff.”

Manager Mark Johnson, a former Major League catcher who welcomes his family from Georgia each season shortly after school lets out, lauds Bote and Hannemann’s collective balancing act.

“I commend them for being able to come to the field and go to work every day and handle it at such a young age,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t imagine being married at that young an age and trying to play a game. It’s tough. The game’s hard enough, and it’s good that their wives are here and they’re supporting them. It’s good to see.”

In a few weeks, Shayli Hannemann will return to BYU and the pursuit of her business degree, presumably by way of Florida. Rachel Bote, a Northern Colorado graduate who has searched for part-time work in the Fox Valley, planned to be back in Colorado, Utah’s neighbor to the east.

Until then, the Cougars – owners of the Midwest League’s best record through Wednesday – keep winning, and clinched a playoff berth in June after winning the first-half Western Division title.

Bote and Hannemann were among the Champagne-doused players mugging for pictures in the postgame bedlam. They’d love nothing more than to be part of a greater celebration once the postseason concludes in September, whether in Kane County or Daytona. The D-Cubs led their Florida State Leaue Division through Wednesday.

Should Daytona advance that far, the Hannemanns’ anniversary falls during the FSL Championship Series. Could an extra ring be in the cards?

“I guess it’s just me and Bote that are married, but it’s normal to me,” Hannemann said. “We still get along with everybody. I wouldn’t say it separates us too much.”

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