“Henderson! The police are here, and by the way …”
* RP Jim Henderson (Calgary, Alta.) was given the news of his promotion to the majors in the strangest way possible ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
St. LOUIS — You have no idea what’s happening.
The game is over and your manager has called a team meeting. Everyone is gathered in the clubhouse, waiting to find out what’s going on.
Apparently, the group of young women who were sitting behind the bullpen all game have brought forward a grievance. They’ve gone to the police and lodged a complaint against one of the relief pitchers.
The accuser has informed the authorities that she was being harassed by the Canadian. The police have asked your manager to help them out in solving the problem at hand.
You stand up, and so does the other Canadian on the team. He’s the third baseman however, and he was not in the bullpen. Your manager tells you both that she named a tall player, so Taylor Green, your Nashville Sounds teammate, sits back down.
“So what do you have to say for yourself?” your manager asks as he looks in your direction.
Jim Henderson didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t harassing anyone. He didn’t even talk to the ladies who were sitting by the bullpen. He was genuinely baffled by the situation. And he told his manager, Mike Guerrero, as much.
So how did Guerrero respond?
“Okay, you can tell all that to the lieutenant that’s going to come in,” he said. “He’s all pissed off because all of these young ladies said whatever they said. So you can explain that to him. And by the way, you’ve been called up to the big leagues.”
Guerrero wanted Henderson’s moment to be special. He wanted the nine-year minor leaguer to remember his call, and Guerrero also wanted his entire team to be a part of it.
As the manager’s eyes wandered around the stadium during the game, they landed and fixated near the bullpen. He had found his scenario and planned accordingly.
“It was incredible,” Guerrero said over the phone from Nashville. “It was a good moment. It was perfect. It caught him totally by surprise; it caught everyone by surprise. I got everybody. They didn’t catch me. I was totally serious and it was a really good moment for the team. They felt like they won 10 games in a row, they were so happy for Jim.”
The smile on Henderson’s face over a week into his big league tenure is so wide that it doesn’t seem possible that anyone could be happier.
“It’s pretty amazing right now,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s a dream come true right now as far as making my debut last week and just enjoying the first week right now. It’s been pretty incredible.”
Henderson’s incredible journey began in 2003 when he was drafted in the 26th round by the Montreal Expos from Tennessee Wesleyan College. Since then, he’s pitched in the Washington Nationals, the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers organizations.
The Calgary native spent four of those seasons in Triple-A, where the bigs is always just a phone call away. But he never felt closer than he did this year, a factor that didn’t always play out to his advantage.
“This year I had a good year and stayed consistent,” Henderson said. “So I heard some whispers earlier on in the season. It was almost a bad thing, kind of a distraction, so I tried not to think about it. But how can you not?
“I didn’t like the way I was going out there and it was distracting me, but I was able to get through it and just be patient for most of the year.”
Through 35 appearances for the Sounds in the Pacific Coast League this season, Henderson was 4-3 with a 1.69 ERA out of the bullpen. He threw 48 innings, notched 15 saves, struck out 56 and held opponents to a .214 average.
In six games with the Brewers Henderson has thrown five frames, allowed one run, walked none and struck out seven. Upon his arrival in Milwaukee, the right-hander also joined fellow Canadian John Axford in the bullpen.
Axford’s path to The Show was also a little unorthodox, not making his way into the minors until he was in his mid-20s. But he’s been incredibly impressed with what his new teammate has gone through to get to where he is.
The native of Port Dover believes that their persistence – and perhaps even stubbornness – might be traced back to their Canadian roots.
“We’re always trying to prove ourselves to a certain degree on a larger stage than where we believe we should be,” Axford said. “My path wasn’t the most-travelled path, that’s not the way you really want to go, but it’s the same with Jim, too.
“I think Jim started playing pro ball younger than I did but the persistency of him staying in the minors for nine years, that’s hard, especially when you’re bouncing around as many different teams as he had, being released, trying to sign with another team, being released again; trying to sign with another team. It takes a lot to be able to keep going after it the way you want to and try and reach that fulfillment, that dream of playing in the big leagues.
“And after nine years, it’s got to be tough when you’re down there. I was in the minors only for a few years but it was the matter of getting into pro ball that was the difficult part for me. I didn’t start playing until I was 24 and I couldn’t imagine being there for nine years, like certain people …
“I don’t know if I would have lasted if it was nine years in the minor leagues. So that says something for Jim, that’s for sure.”
There is a lot to be said about the journey of Jim Henderson, from his time with the Okotoks Dawgs through his 10 seasons in the minors to Milwaukee’s clubhouse, but Guerrero said it best.
“It’s a special moment, not only for him but for everyone in the organization, and in all of baseball,” Guerrero said. “As long as you work hard and no matter how long you’re in baseball, if you have a uniform you have a chance. Your willingness to keep fighting and grinding it out, one way or the other, if you do the right things and you’re in the right place, you’re going to get a chance.”