Henderson deserving Clapp winner

by on January 7, 2014


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* Jim Henderson (Calgary, Alta.), drafted in the 26th round by the Montreal Expos and scout Dana Brown, now of the Blue Jays, from Tennessee Wesleyan in 2003, will be presented with the Stubby Clapp award Saturday at the 12th annual Baseball Canada National Teams awards banquet and fundraiser in Toronto. ….   

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By Alexis Brudnicki

He started from the bottom and now he’s here.

Depending on where the bottom can be considered to be, Jim Henderson was there twice.

A year-and-a-half removed from his major league debut now, the Milwaukee Brewers closer hasn’t forgotten his two journeys up – and down – the minor league ladder.

“Coming back from shoulder surgery and then having to come back through the minor leagues [was toughest],” Henderson said. “I basically had to do it twice. Most players only have to go through it once but I had to prove myself twice, so I think that was the biggest challenge, and to keep on opening eyes along the way.”

The 31-year-old has certainly opened a lot of eyes as of late. After earning the opportunity to finish out a few games in his debut season, he took over as the closer for the Brewers last year. By the end he had racked up 28 saves to go with a 2.70 ERA. Over 60 innings he allowed just 18 runs, walking 24 and striking out 75 of the 247 batters he faced.

Those numbers, along with the perseverance Henderson has shown throughout his journey to the big leagues, have earned him his latest honour, the Stubby Clapp award, which he will receive on Saturday at the 12th annual Baseball Canada National Teams Awards Banquet and Fundraiser in Toronto.

“To be honoured by Baseball Canada is great,” Henderson said. “I always look at playing for the national team as an honour, so for them to recognize me, it’s an honour on top of that. And as badly as I pitched in the [World Baseball Classic], it’s nice that they still considered me one of the top guys over there.”

The Stubby Clapp honour doesn’t go to the guy who had the best WBC performance, as Henderson pointed out. Instead, the award is given to someone who embodies desire, competitiveness, and a never-say-die attitude.

“It describes my journey, definitely,” Henderson said. “And definitely part of how I play as well. Out of any award that they give out, I would want that one the most because knowing Stubby on a personal level, just with his size and his ability, that he had to grind and make his way to the big leagues.

“Seeing the way he played and the way he is as a coach, you know that’s the type of player he was … It’s an honour to receive that award in particular because of who Stubby Clapp is.”

Because of who Jim Henderson is, that never-say-die mindset is likely to stick with him for the remainder of his playing days. Despite having reached the level that was ultimately his goal for so long, the veteran of 11 minor league seasons still feels like he’s climbing the ladder.

“Spending that much time in the minors, that’s the way it was for so long,” he said. “You’re trying to get to the next level, next level, open eyes and prove that you can get there. Now when you’re at the top level it doesn’t feel like the top. It feels like there’s still more, and that’s the attitude that I take out there.

“I’m still trying to impress the Brewers staff and the GM and prove now that I can stay there. You look at the big picture and you’re just trying to stay and sink your teeth in, and see how long I can ride this out for.”

Not only does Henderson continue to feel like he has to prove himself to others, he’s also set the bar incredibly high for himself. Even after a great individual year is done and in the books, he’s still very disappointed in his own performance at the WBC, for which the righty had some extremely steep expectations.

“Really high [expectations], especially with the national team,” Henderson said. “You have a few games to prove yourself and to move onto the next round, in that tournament. A lot gets put into a couple outings with a tournament like that, so I put a lot of pressure on myself for that.

“Especially when we had, and I’m talking about the one game in particular, but when you have the lead against the Americans and you have supposedly your best two guys in the bullpen to finish it out and we couldn’t get it done. I put a lot of pressure on myself for that.

“And I think the role I’m in kind of determines the pressure too. When you’re in a closer’s role or a late-inning role, if you don’t perform, you lose. I put pressure on myself as the game would dictate. You’ve got to get the job done.”

Team Canada as a whole didn’t get the job done at the third WBC in March, failing to advance beyond the first round of play, despite putting on a very exciting display for the entire nation. But Henderson will take it as a learning experience and look to do better next time around.

“I think I was just a little bit too amped up,” the hurler said. “I’ve never pitched in an atmosphere like that before. I’ve never been in the major league playoffs but I would assume that’s a similar atmosphere, where every pitch matters.

“I was really excited to be out there and I wanted to get the job done so badly that maybe I tried to do too much. It was definitely a learning experience and I really hope I can come back out and be in that next WBC in 2017.”

Incredibly focused and probably too hard on himself for the jobs that he couldn’t get done, Henderson often finds it difficult to sit back and enjoy what he’s achieved along the way.

“I never really try to look back,” he said. “I try to look forward and see where I can get to in the game. I talked about my journey to the big leagues after I made it, to the kids in Okotoks and other people, and it gets a little emotional looking back at it but that’s the only time I really look back – when people kind of ask and I have to talk about it. Otherwise I’m looking ahead.”

He did take a little bit of time last year however to enjoy his breakout season at the highest level of the game.

“After I made my debut, I drove from Milwaukee to Calgary,” Henderson said. “And that was the easiest drive I’ve ever had, 20-something hours to finally sit back and relax and know that you’ve accomplished it and made it to the top.”

Even now that he’s made it there, not everything has changed. Just after his call up to the big leagues, Henderson recalled winning gold with Team Canada at the 2011 Pan Am Games as his career highlight, and just before the WBC began, he said that it would land at the top of that list. After cementing himself in the big leagues, his national team moments still rank among the best.

“I’m going to stick with those two,” Henderson said. “Last season didn’t go that well for us as a team with the Brewers. It wasn’t too much fun getting beat up by St. Louis all year. So I’m going to have to stick with the Pan Am gold, and the WBC was a good experience as well. It was a learning experience, but it was fantastic to play for my country at that level.”

While Henderson is still getting adjusted to life at the top and is continuing to learn along the way, there’s probably nothing that could be better and no better way to learn.

“I try to stay level-headed but there’s this excitement,” he said. “It’s exciting to be in Milwaukee and get noticed on the street or whatever – it’s really cool, but I try to keep the game simple. As far as on the field, it’s still the same game. It’s fun.

“I really enjoyed being out there late in the game. It took a little adjusting; getting used to those pressure situations and the crowds in the stadiums when you’re in late in the game, but it’s all been fun.”


Alexis Brudnicki
Baseball has been a part of Alexis' life since her parents took her brother to sign up for Eager Beaver Baseball in London. Alexis wanted to play and asked to sign up, too. Alexis played ball until the boys were all twice her size and then switched to competitive fastball. Her first job was as an umpire for rookies with the EBBA and since then Alexis has completed her education with an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and graduate studies in Sports Journalism at Centennial College

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