Henderson thanks Dawgs family of 'fathers and brothers'

* RP Jimmy Henderson (Calgary, Alta.) shown pitching against the Cincinnati Reds had his No. 15 retired by the Otokoks Dawgs on an emotional night. .... 2012 Most Influential Canadians 2012 All-Canadian Team 2012 All-Canadian stats


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By Bob Elliott

OKOTOKS, Alta. _ One by one Milwaukee Brewers reliever Jimmy Henderson called his former Okotoks Dawgs coaches to the stage.

Pitching coach Don McLeod.

Third base coach Brent Frostad.

First base coach Barry Elliot.

Outfield coach Don Johnstone.

And his manager and dear friend John Ircandia.

Then, from stage left of the Foothills Centennial Center came Angie Cox, Dawgs operations manager, carrying framed Henderson No. 51 jerseys, almost as big as herself, presenting a 3-by-4 foot glass encased jersey for each and everyone.

“I lost my father to ALS at an early age,” Henderson said, mike in hand eye-balling each one, not the 500 people in attendance.

“You guys became like my second fathers.

“Your sons became my brothers.”

A few people were spotted NOT dabbing their eyes.

And then the Dawgs retired Henderson’s No. 15.

At the race track there is a story in every stable.

And in the clubhouse there is a story in every locker.

Not many can match Henderson’s.

He’s been around.

How long?

He was drafted by the Montreal Expos and scout Dana Brown, now with the Blue Jays ... in the 26th round in 2003.

He’s been on the disabled list eight times.

He’d been promoted and demoted -- 27 times in all -- until the 28th time his name showed on the transaction wire when triple-A Nashville manager Mike Guerrero gathered his club July 26 last year after a win and told his teams there was a problem:

Someone in the bullpen had harassed some women fans.

They had complained.

Now the police were involved.

They wanted to talk to the tall Canadian.

“And oh yeah,” Guerrero said, “after you pack your bags ... you are going to the big leagues.”

Our talented Alexis Brudnicki captured the story so much better last year from Milwaukee.

Taylor Swift look-a-like Avery Buye put together a video on Henderson in a touching fashion from his pre-teen days to Miller Park.

As a minor leaguer Henderson always looked ahead, trying to keep his goal of the majors in sight no matter how difficult.

“It wasn’t until this winter when I came to the Duvernay Fieldhouse to address the members of the J-Dawgs academy that I looked back,” Henderson said. “And I got emotional.”

From the Dawgs' mound to the Team Canada bullpen when the World Baseball Classic begins in Phoenix in March.


2003 -- Selected in the 26th round by the Expos, assigned to rookie-class Gulf Coast Expos; promoted to class-A Vermont July 7.


After finishing his high school days, Henderson headed to Midland College for two years and then Tennessee Wesleyan, where Expo scout Zach Hoyrst saw him.

He found he’d been drafted when on the field wearing his red Calgary Dawgs uniform June 4. He didn’t have Scott Boras as his rep. Eight days later he had signed.

“I had a sparkling ERA at Vermont ... just under 7.00 (6.95),” said Henderson. “We thought the fence was about 230 feet down the left field line. I gave up a few that made the front row.

“Then, it was inside for an Expo post-game spread: a hot dog and a cup of soup.”


2004 -- Pitched at Vermont. 


Henderson made 13 starts as a member of the Vermont rotation compiling with a 2.59 ERA.


2005 -- Pitched at class-A Savannah.


Now, no longer a member of the Expos, he now in the Washington Nationals system like the rest of the Expos employees and farmhands. He made 26 starts at Savannah going 9-11 with a 5.47 ERA.

“I owe a lot to John and the other coaches,” Henderson said. “John got a bunch of fathers involved to start the Dawgs, that led to me pitching for Team Alberta and Team Canada. It was all possible because of John. I owe a lot of my career to John.”

The other Dawgs went places too: David Jablonski to College of Charleston, Vince Ircandia to Niagara, Jeff Werhun to California-Irvine, Emerson Frostad to Lewis Clark State College and then signed with the Texas Rangers, Matt Ircandia to Washington State and then Niagara, Cam McLeod to UBC, Greg Rice to Midland College, Chad Coutreille to Alabama-Huntsville, Aric Van Galen to St. Petersburg College and then signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, John Hurd to the College of Southern Idaho, Justin Cardinal to Mesa Community College, Will Gardner to Eastern Oregon and Scott Traquair to Jamestown.

Tanner Osberg signed with New York Mets and David Parker with the Los Angeles Dodgers.


2006 -- Moved from double-A Harrisburg roster to class-A Potomac, promoted to class-A Savannah April 9, returned to Potomac April 19, placed on the seven-day phantom disabled list Aug. 3, claimed in the Rule V draft by the Chicago Cubs Dec. 12 at the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. 


Henderson lost his spot in the rotation making only one start in 28 outings. Then, the new bullpen gig dawned on him: “throw as hard as you can.”

His fastball was clocked in the low 90s.

Washington was getting rid of veteran coaches, scouts and anyone who had been in the organization longer than two minutes.

“I was at home waiting for the call, I was sure I was next,” Henderson said.

Instead Henderson received a call from a strange area code.

It was the Cubs calling.

“I guess,” said Henderson, “someone saw me have a good game.”


2007 -- Opened at double-A Tennessee, promoted to triple-A Iowa June 20, placed on the DL again and demoted to Tennessee Aug. 28.


As a set-up man and as a closer, Henderson recalls pitching three straight days, having an off day, working three more days and then having a sore elbow.

“Iowa was neat, pitching against Albuquerque, Sacramento -- the teams that used to come through Calgary.”


2008 -- Opened at Tennessee on the disabled list, activated May 5, promoted to Iowa May 20, placed on the DL May 27.


Henderson had both a herniated disk and then shoulder surgery.

“I called my mom crying,” said Henderson. “It was going to be tough to come back from.”


2009 -- Released March 12 by the Cubs, signed by Brewers April 1, assigned class-A Wisconsin, promoted to class-A Brevard County June 24, to double-A Huntsville Aug. 11. 

Greg Hamilton phoned to ask if Henderson would pitch for Team Canada at the Rogers Centre in the World Baseball Classic that March.

Knowing he was re-habbing from surgery the Cubs wanted him in camp. Henderson told Hamilton no.

Henderson was released the day the WBC began.

Had he been cut earlier he could have pitched for Canada with the chance to show other teams what he could do.

His release date oddly enough matched the annual trip south by Ircandia and his pals. Ircandia made some calls. Ircandia twisted arms. Finally, he reached Brewers scout Brandon Newell, who had coached Henderson with the Dawgs his final year before heading to Midland.

“It was the easiest call I had to make, I knew the kid,” Newell said. “I needed John to send me Jimmy’s medical reports and Jimmy to go throw a bullpen for our people at our place.”

Ircandia is a lawyer, but looked at medical info, shook his head and said “Jimmy some of this stuff is pretty rough.”

Henderson headed to Maryvale, Az.

Dick Groch was the scout in the bullpen with the gun, he signed Derek Jeter so he knows a little,” Henderson said. “I get loose and Dick says ‘OK I want you to throw the next three pitches as hard as you possibly can.’

Henderson threw the first pitch, caught the return throw from the catcher and turned to look at Groch.

“OK, ready any time you are,” said Groch.

Henderson threw three more pitches.

“I never did find out what the velocity on that first pitch was,” said Henderson.

The good news was he had a job.

The bad news was he was headed to class-A to be a real life Bull Durham-like Crash Davis to young pitchers, a year after being at triple-A, a stubbed toe or a torn rotator from the majors.

Henderson made the mid-season all-star team ... “an all-star at 26 pitching against 18-19 year-olds.”

In the all-star game the manager trying to get all his pitchers in the game, hooked Henderson with two out in the ninth.

Joked the manager: “I heard you were too old to finish.”

He was promoted to Brevard County to pitch “against 20-21 year-olds.”

Word spreads quickly when a big shot comes to a minor-league outpost.

The word was assistant GM Gord Ash was coming to town.

Henderson asked for a meeting was told “you’ve done everything we’ve asked.”

Soon he was promoted to Huntsville.

Henderson shared Canadian Baseball Network Minor League Pitcher of the Year honours with future teammate John Axford after going 1-0, with a 2.57 ERA at Huntsville; 3-0, with a 2.76 ERA and four saves at Brevard County and 0-0, with a 1.07 ERA and 17 saves at Wisconsin.


2010 -- Pitched at Huntsville, became a free agent Nov. 6.


Huntsville was a concrete jungle with one grounds keeper Henderson said.

Then doctors discovered Henderson didn’t have a muscle in the back of his right shoulder. “It’s like Tiger Woods whacked me with an iron” he said of the indentation in his back.


2011 -- Signed by Brewers to a one-year deal Jan. 1, opened in Nashville, demoted to Huntsville May 28, promoted to Nashville July 18, placed on DL Aug. 6, demoted to Huntsville Aug. 13, joined Team Canada to win gold in the Pan-Ams and bronze in the World Cup, resigned with the Brewers Oct. 31.


He began the year throwing 97 MPH, but the harder he tried to throw the slower it came out.

“Quickly those eyes that I had widened began to shut,” said Henderson.

He was placed on the DL when Nashville was on the road and joined Huntsville on the road ... “living off three pair of under wear.”

Ash phoned offering a contract.

Hold on a second, thought Henderson, no way he was boarding the Nashville-Huntsville shuttle again, so he called pitching coach Chris Bosio who told him “you’re my guy.”

A week after Henderson signed, the Cubs hired Bosio as their pitching coach.

At spring training Henderson pitched only a few innings and figured he’d get released.

“This is going to sound silly, but my name was on the triple-A roster so I took off driving for Nashville, my thought process was they couldn’t release you if you were on the road driving,” Henderson said.

Ash phoned and said “it’s unfair to release you when you’ve done all that driving.”

After an injury with the Brewers Henderson was bumped up the ladder again, pitching when the score was 8-1 or 10-1 reeling off a 17-inning scoreless streak.


2012 -- Opened at Huntsville, a day later he was promoted to Nashville, placed on DL May 16, promoted to the Brewers July 27. 


Marilyn Henderson received a phone call with the news bulletin from her son as soon as he heard the news.

Around 2 AM he called again.

“Here he is asking me ‘what should I pack?’ He’s been packing for road trips all these years and he’s asking me what to pack? You’d have thought he’d never gone on a trip before.”

The difference was Henderson was leaving his belongings in a truck in Nashville and flying to Milwaukee.

Mom caught a red-eye out of Calgary the next night but first Marilyn stopped by Seaman Stadium en route to the airport.

“I asked ‘what on earth she was doing here?’ Maryiln said ‘where else would I be?’” said Ircandia.

Marilyn missed the Seaman Stadium announcement on the drive to Okotoks, the “now pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers, former Okotoks Dawg Jim Henderson.”

What Marilyn missed was manager Ron Roenicke bringing in her son with the Brewers down 7-0 to the Washington Nationals at Miller Park.

Henderson’s debut:

A four-pitch strikeout of centre fielder Roger Bernadina.

A weak ground ball to short by Jesus Flores.

And a fly ball to centre by Edwin Jackson.

A nine-pitch, nine-strike inning.

After 10 years ... why waste time throwing a ball.

“That was the best day my life,” Henderson said.

After a Calgary-Toronto-Chicago flight and a drive to Milwaukee mom saw her son emerge from the first-base dugout wearing his Brewers blue.

Both mom Marilyn and former coach Ircandia were there for Henderson’s second and third games to see him pitch:

A scoreless eighth in a 4-1 loss to Washington: right fielder Mike Morse hit a weak grounder to short, first baseman Adam LaRoche singled, left fielder Tyler Moore struck out and Flores struck out.

Retiring Flores on a ground ball -- the only man he faced -- to protect a 3-2 Milwaukee lead, a game the Nationals won 11-10.

Henderson again won the CBN minor league pitcher of the year.

“We started off as 13-year-olds, we didn’t have a home field. As players we always wondered ‘what’s going to happen when John’s kids aren’t playing any more?”

Ircandia has not slowed a step, in fact he’s hit the accelerator.

As Henderson said “He still digs the Dawgs.”


Bob ElliottComment