Which is not to
suggest that Pronk is as thick as a brontosaurus burger. Far from it. He was
valedictorian of his high school. Of course, the class had only eight students.
"I had a 3.99 GPA," Hafner says. He adds, sheepishly, "In my junior
year I got an A-minus in world history. Some foreign countries I wasn't much
He became Pronk
in 2001, during his first spring training with the Rangers. At the time, Hafner
answered to Project (because he was so green) and Donkey (because he circled
the bases with the clumsy canter of a jackass). One day teammate Bill Selby
yelled, "Hey, Project. What's up, you big donkey?"
"You can't call me both!"
So Selby tried
fusing the two handles. "Donkject didn't sound quite right," Hafner
says. "But Pronkey...."
Pronkey begat El
Pronko, which begat Pronk. "I'm to the point where I like it better than
Travis," he says. "Everyone calls me Pronk." Well, not everyone.
"The truth is, I hardly ever call him Pronk," says his mother, Bev.
"I prefer the Pronkinator."
live on a 3,500-acre spread off Highway 52. Hafner doesn't know the street
address. "Just look for the second house on the right after the rest
stop," he says, helpfully. "The one with the Quonset hut and the
tractors and the black cement bears on the front lawn."
Hafner honed his
batting stroke by whacking rocks in the backyard. "I'd tell him to aim for
the field," says his father, Terry, "not the grain bins." Terry was
born in Sykeston, like his father and father's father. Bev is an immigrant.
"She's from Cathay," says Travis. Not China, mind you, but a town seven
miles north of Sykeston.
When Travis was
growing up, his mom ran Bev's Beauty Shop out of the farmhouse basement. She
trimmed her younger son's locks until he left home. "I've shaved my head
ever since," says Travis, exulting in the fact that he's never had to pay
for a haircut.
wheat, barley, flax, corn, sunflowers and pinto beans. Travis hated farmwork.
"I'd always get stuck with the jobs my dad and my brother, Troy, didn't
want." Sports, though, he loved. He excelled at the discus and the triple
jump, and played power forward on the Sykeston High basketball team. His hoops
coach, Jon Bertsch, vividly recalls the practice in which Travis's windmill
dunk shattered a glass backboard. "Travis had tremendous raw strength,"
Bertsch says. "[Another time], he grabbed the rim, pulled himself up and
jammed the ball into the net."
Since the school
in Sykeston had no baseball program, Hafner played American Legion ball during
the summer. The country-strong catcher was so dominant that after graduation he
tried out with the Atlanta Braves in Bismarck. The Braves were
impressed--slightly. They dangled a $1,000 signing bonus. Though Hafner turned
it down, he took a scout's advice to sandpaper his skills at a college in the