Henson throws a different ball this fall
By Jack Magruder
Henson takes the ball, plants and throws, effortlessly making a 40-yard toss to the opposite side of the field. If he were throwing a football, Henson would be in his natural fall element.
But he is taking infield for the Peoria Javelinas on opening night of the Arizona Fall League season, which began Tuesday. The Yankees prospect will spend this fall in this top developmental league, sent to get more repetitions after an injury-shortened 2001, his first season as a full-time baseball player.
"It's different. It's definitely different," said Henson, an all-America-caliber quarterback in his three seasons at the University of Michigan who signed a six-year, $17 million contract after being reacquired by the Yankees from the Reds in late March.
"It helps a little bit than I'm not actually in Michigan, that I'm not there for the season. I'm still active, doing something to keep my mind busy besides watching football all day every week."
And while Henson still talks a little football with Peoria teammate and former University of Miami quarterback Kenny Kelly, his focus is fixed on baseball.
"I'm very happy," Henson said. "You play (football) because you love it. It hasn't changed. I just had to make the career decision. But I'll always get the itch, I'm sure, for the next few years when I watch a game on TV, especially a Michigan game. I had a great experience. I get pumped up on Saturday to watch College GameDay and still watch a few games. It gets me excited still."
Henson, 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds, is one of two top third base prospects on the Javelinas, along with Hank Blalock (Rangers). The two are expected to alternate at third base--Henson played the opener against Phoenix-- while also being used at DH.
"He needs the at-bats," said Yankees minor league manager Dan Radison, who had Henson for a week this summer at Double-A Norwich in the Eastern League. "This will be good for him."
Henson was a little behind from the start this season. He missed spring training while still attending Michigan. After joining the Yankees he broke a bone in the top of his left hand when being hit by a pitch in the second week of April. That was to be his last game with Class A Tampa before going to Triple-A Columbus. The plane ticket was in his locker.
"It was real disappointing, but there wasn't much I could do about it," Henson said. "It's a small bone, but you can't grip the bat."
So instead, Henson did his rehab work and one-hand drills while waiting for the left hand to heal, and even bought a house in the Tampa area. He returned in June, playing a short time in Norwich before being promoted to Columbus.
The late start took a toll on his numbers. Henson hit .222-11-38 in 270 at-bats for Columbus, though he got hot as the season was ending. In his last six games for the Clippers, he went 9-for-26 with eight RBIs.
"When you can't swing the bat for two months, and having missed all of spring training, I was behind to start with," Henson said. "It just took me a long time to catch up. I was trying to go through it with a positive attitude and try not to get frustrated. It was good for me to get up there and get experience playing once I got healthy. It took me a while to get comfortable with my swing more than anything. Once I did, make a lot of improvements.
"People look at your season on paper and think one thing, but it was really good for me to get up there and see some veteran pitching. Those are the adjustments you are going to have to make, guys feeding you the offspeed stuff. They got me for awhile, but I was finally able to make some adjustments and finish the season on a good note."
Henson couldn't completely get away from football, though. As a Michigan man in Columbus, Ohio, even Henson's home games were not without the occasional heckle.
"They are Clippers fans, but they are usually Ohio State football fans first and foremost," Henson said. "They boo and do whatever. I expected it going in. It got better. I did have a lot of support there. I enjoyed playing there a lot.
"It's 10 times worse over at the Horseshoe (at Ohio Stadium) in November than it was any time last summer, so I could handle it."
The league began with two interim managers: Rick Sweet (Padres) was to manage Peoria until Duane Espy completed his work as the Padres' major league hitting coach. Tony DeFrancesco (Athletics) was to do likewise in Phoenix until Thad Bosley arrived. Bosley is Oakland's major league hitting coach.
The big leagues were also taking a bite out of some early rosters. Among those not in the AFL yet were Maryvale's Tim Raines Jr. (Orioles), Peoria's Nick Johnson (Yankees) and Justin Duchscherer (Rangers), Grand Canyon's Mike Cuddyer (Twins) and Matt LeCroy (Twins) and Maryvale's Eric Munson (Tigers) and Chad Hermansen (Pirates).
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