One of Hardy's buddies back in Arizona was Dustin Yount, son of Brewers Hall of Famer Robin Yount.
"We were good friends all through high school, playing against and with each other on different teams," Hardy recalled. "I've been to their house a few times, hanging out. I met Robin but I never really talked to him a lot."
J.J. was a huge Arizona Diamondbacks fan while growing up. He attended the Diamondbacks' inaugural game in 1998. And in 2001, he said he was perched near the concourse behind home plate for Game 7 of the World Series when Luis Gonzalez slapped his World Series-winning single past New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
The Tucson Sabino High star was in attendance for both Game 6 and Game 7 of the World Series, cheering on the Diamondbacks despite being the second-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers only months earlier.
"I was a pretty big fan," said Hardy. "You didn't even know people, and you were hugging them and high-fiving them," Hardy said.
As a high school pitcher, Hardy was clocked in the 89-92 mph range, so some teams considered drafting him as a pitcher.
In 2001 Hardy was a member of the U.S. Junior National team, which won the silver medal in Edmonton, Canada. In 2003, he played for the U.S. Olympic Qualifying team.
Hardy's cousin, John, was the starting shortstop at the University of Arizona in 2003 and 2004.
J.J. really likes playing racquetball, and started when he was young.
"It helped keep me in shape and help the quick-twitch muscles," he says. "My Dad is a tennis pro, so I've gone to him for help on some things. The strokes in tennis and racquetball are kind of similar, and he's helped me work on getting more power in my backhand," Hardy said in 2003.
Hardy's father, Mark, is a former professional tennis player, at one time being ranked 323rd ATP Tour.
His mother, Susie, once played on the LPGA tour, being ranked behind only Nancy Lopez in college. She had to give up golf when she became inflicted with a nerve disorder in her hands (possibly carpal tunnel syndrome).
J.J.'s older brother, Logan, was a scratch golfer and terrific all-around athlete, but chose to join the Army. Logan spent time in the Middle East, returning to the U.S. in July 2003. Then, Logan had another tour of duty: six months in Iraq.
"He went through mental trauma," J.J. said. "He saw things that normal people don't see. He was the one who volunteered to drive a Humvee through roadblocks."
Logan is now safely back in the states.
- In 2004, J.J. spent six months of the season in a physical rehabilitation program after dislocating his left shoulder while playing at Class AAA Indianapolis. The injury required surgery, ending Hardy's season only a month after it had begun.
Players will tell you the toughest part of coming back from any major injury is the daily grind of mind-numbing rehabilitation exercises, which Hardy went through at the Brewers' training complex in Phoenix.
"It was the toughest thing I've ever been through," said Hardy, a second-round draft pick in 2001 who probably would have made his Major League debut sooner if not for the injury. At the beginning, I was down and depressed."
To the rescue came Hardy's brother, Logan, who is 17 months older. Logan had just returned from a six-month tour of duty in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division, and thus was well acquainted with the horrors of war. The Army actually made Logan come home against his will, eventually giving him a medical discharge over what was considered erratic behavior.
"It was time for his unit to come home but he wanted to stay," J.J. said. "I talked to him about it. He said they trained him to be a soldier and do everything that way, and he wanted to stay over there and keep doing it."
Logan Hardy was in a communications unit that was part of the first wave of soldiers to enter the palace of deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, shortly after fighting broke out. He had the option of staying off the front lines but volunteered to drive Humvees for the Army Rangers, well aware that vehicles were being destroyed on a regular basis by roadside bombs.
"They thought he was crazy," J.J. said. "He came home and I saw him a few times. From what he's seen over there in war, you've got to expect something. But I think I know him well enough to know he was OK."
With the added trauma of going through a divorce, Logan returned to Arizona—the family home is in Tucson—and eventually settled into J.J.'s house in Tempe. Each day, he would watch his younger brother trudge off to the Brewers' complex for his physical therapy, then return in a discouraged mood. And talk to Logan.
"He was just the older brother you could lean on," J.J. said. "Any time I was down, and I was definitely depressed, he said the right things to pick me up. We had a lot of talks, and he basically brought my spirits up. He would say all the things that pretty much anyone would say, but it meant more coming from him. He would tell me that things happen for a reason and say 'you're going to make it.'" (Tom Haudricourt-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-4/6/05)
J.J.'s brother, Logan, was also going through doubts and fears. He was battling the emotional horrors of war and the distress of a broken marriage, moved into his Phoenix-area home and the two brothers battled and beat depression together.
Logan was fighting life, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He says, "I couldn't really cope with real life," Hardy said. "It was a totally different world for me. I didn't have a job, I didn't talk to friends, I didn't talk to anybody. It was pretty much [the] nightmares. I couldn't sleep. Over there, you got used to sleeping an hour and a half at a time before you got ambushed. When I got back, I'd lay in my own bed. I was used to sleeping on the cot. I was up every hour, just looking around."
"Between the two of them, J is going, 'My career is over,' and Logan is going, 'My life is over.' He was so not right after coming back from the war," Mark Hardy said. "He's a great guy, a fun kid, and there was nothing left of his personality after he got back from Iraq. You didn't know how it was going to go, but we trusted both of them when they were together. The two of them together was a whole lot more comfortable than either of them apart."
For the first couple of weeks, a period J.J. Hardy describes as "a miserable time," the new housemates talked about very little of any substance. Hardy spent mornings at the Brewers' spring training facility nearby, working to get his shoulder back in shape. In the afternoons, they debated what ball they wanted to whip around the house and what they wanted on their pizza. The serious topics would have to wait as the days trickled by.
They kept the shades down, the lights off. "It was dark in there for months at a time," Hardy recalled. And phone calls were mostly ignored. Their idea of getting out of the house was taking a couple of steps out the door and into J.J.'s new Jacuzzi. But that's also where the tension and the uncertainty began to thaw. They began talking openly, and eventually every fear came pouring out. Healing began.
Logan Hardy rediscovered his sense of humor and regained his old routine. J.J.'s shoulder, after extensive rehab, was getting better. They started going out for meals and meeting friends. Months later, Hardy was healthy enough to report to big league spring training and win the job as the Brewers' Opening Day shortstop in 2005. Logan Hardy got a job at an auto glass company and moved out of his brother's place about a year and a half after moving in. (Jeff Zrebiec-Baltimore Sun-3/20/11)
During the offseason before 2003 spring training, Hardy lived with three of his friends from the Milwaukee organization: Brad Nelson (the Brewers 2002 Minor league Player of the Year), Mike Jones (Milwaukee's No. 1 draft pick in 2001), and Chris Saenz (a relief pitcher picked in the 28th round of the same draft). They worked out together.
"We drive about 40 miles to work out Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with Keith Wilson, the head minor league strength and conditioning guy for the Brewers. It's lifting weights and running and all that stuff. After the workouts we try to do something active, whether it's running or golf or playing racquetball, which I love to do."
J.J. started dating his girlfriend, Britany, in February 2001. They were still together in 2003.
J.J. was named to the 2003 United States team for the fifth annual All-Star Futures Game. That contest was on Sunday, July 13, at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago as the preliminary event for festivities leading to the All-Star Game two days later.
Hardy is competitive and mature for his age. He is a team leader. The only problem: His intensity can cause him to wear down at times. But overall, his makeup is very good. He is reserved and soft-spoken, but plays with real intensity.
Before 2004 spring training, Baseball America ranked J.J. as the third best prospect in the Brewers' organization, behind Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder. And before 2005 spring camps opened, the magazine again rated Hardy #3 behind Weeks and Fielder.
- In 2009, Hardy tried to change his mental game, going along with then-Brewers manager Ken Macha's suggestion that he see a sports psychologist, which resulted in an anti-depressant medication that Hardy deems "his worst decision ever."
J.J.'s Favorites: TV Show - Two and a Half Men; Movie - The Hangover; Music - Country; Athlete in another sport - Andy Roddick; First Job - Soccer referee.
In a room full of great players, J.J. Hardy is the best. Hands down. He doesn't hesitate when asked about it. The Orioles' shortstop is confident that he is the best ping-pong player in the Orioles' clubhouse.
"If anyone gets me on the table, chances are I win," Hardy said. "We've got seven or eight guys in this clubhouse that are really, really good at ping pong."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter shared a tidbit about Hardy: "You should hear our younger players when they talk about him," said Showalter of his Gold Glove shortstop during Spring Training in 2015. "They speak with reverence. Absolute reverence. That gives you an idea of his standing in the game right now." (Kolligan – mlb.com - 2015)
September 24, 2017: To evaluate what J.J. has done for the Baltimore Orioles, you have to go beyond the box scores. You have to look past Hardy's sure glove, his place in the club's all-time rankings -- which has him second in homers among shortstops and third in RBIs and games played -- and take an even closer look.
He is the captain of the infield, the inquisitive mind that pipes up in team meetings and makes even the ultra-prepared Orioles manager Buck Showalter wonder if he's missed something. He is giving Showalter his thoughts on the Gold Glove candidates' seasons, telling Most Valuable Oriole Jonathan Schoop a few years back to focus more on playing every day than on individual stats. He is showing then-rookie third baseman Manny Machado to make tough plays look easy, and to never let his defense go into a slump.
And in September 24th's 9-4 win against the Rays, Hardy found himself in an unusual position: the center of attention. The understated shortstop, a key cog in the Orioles' three postseason appearances since 2012, homered and received numerous standing ovations in what is expected to be the final home game of his seven-year career in Baltimore.
"[It] definitely caught me off guard and I had to fight some emotions," Hardy, acquired in a trade with the Twins prior to the 2011 season, said of the reaction at Camden Yards. "I'm thinking, 'Why are they doing this now? Going to have to play a whole game after this.' So when the fans started getting loud I thought that was cool. Just seemed like it took a long time [for the ovation], and it was very well appreciated."
The emotions ran high in the Orioles' clubhouse as Schoop and Machado spent pregame stretching interlocked with Hardy in right field. When the O's shortstop stepped to the plate in the first inning, fans scrambled to their feet as soon as public address announcer Ryan Wagner belted out his famous "J….J…Hardy" welcome. Members of both dugouts joined in the applause from the railing.
Hardy stood in awe for a moment, with Rays starter Chris Archer hanging back behind the mound to let the O's shortstop have his moment. Hardy waved to the crowd in thanks, bringing the applause to an even greater decibel before he stepped in and grounded out.
"You think of J.J., you think about the word 'efficient'. Trustworthy. Impactful to his teammates. We're very lucky to have had him pass our way," Showalter said. "We'll see what the future brings. He played a big part in the culture, I think. Talking to Jonathan and Manny and [Tim Beckham] and Chris [Davis]. The great compliment, Brady [Anderson] and I were talking about him, that he's probably the only guy I've ever seen that reminds you of Cal [Ripken, Jr.] at shortstop defensively. They were able to get the balls with their brains as well as their hands."
The noise reached a new level in the fourth inning as Hardy uncorked a full-count homer off of Archer. It marked just the fourth home run of the year for Hardy, who was relunctantly pushed by Machado out of the dugout for a curtain call."I definitely didn't expect that to happen today," said Hardy, who also singled in the sixth. "I was just going to go out there and try not to embarrass myself. Turned out to be a pretty good day."
Signed to a three-year contract extension in 2014 with an option for '18 that won't vest due to a wrist fracture that sidelined him for nearly three months, Hardy is unsure of the future. But he does believe, no matter what, that he'll always be an Oriole.
"I feel like there's probably still a percentage, a small chance, that I could come back. Definitely, I feel like I'm an Oriole for life. These seven years have been ... I couldn't have asked for more," Hardy said. "I'm really appreciative of Buck writing my name in the lineup as much as he did, the Angelos family for signing me to two extensions, all my teammates. I'm a person that really cares about what people think about me. To see the way that they reacted today was really special." (Ghiroli - mlb.com - 9/24/17)
June 2001: The Brewers drafted Hardy in the second round, out of Sabino High School in Tucson, Arizona. In July, J.J. signed for a $735,000 bonus. Brian Johnson was the scout who signed him.
January 12, 2009: J.J. and the Brewers avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $4.65 million contract.
January 19, 2010: Hardy and the Twins avoided arbitration, settling on a $5.1 million contract for 2010.
November 6, 2009: The Twins sent OF Carlos Gomez to the Brewers, acquiring Hardy.
December 9, 2010: The Orioles sent righthanders Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson to the Twins; receiving Hardy, INF Brendan Harris, and $500,000.
July 16, 2011: Hardy and the Orioles agreed on a three-year contract extension. It is worth a reported $22.5 million and has a partial no-trade clause.
October 9, 2014: The night before the O's first appearance in the ALCS since 1997, J.J. signed a three-year contract with the Orioles,
The contract, which comes with an option for 2018, goes into effect after his current deal expires at the end of this season. The deal is worth $40 million, according to media reports.
"Why not now, really?" Dan Duquette said. "When we looked at the market, we thought the best chance to sign J.J. was before he went to free agency because he's distinguished himself as one of the top shortstops in the league. And J.J. let us know that he wanted to continue his career here in Baltimore."
- Nov 3, 2017: Hardy chose free agency.