Dawgs family helps get pitcher to Big Leagues
Baseball: Jim Henderson starts scholarship for young players
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 06:00 am
Family played a large part in making it to the major leagues last summer for the guest speaker at the Okotoks Dawgs’ awards banquet Feb. 2.
Milwaukee Brewer relief pitcher Jim Henderson had the help of his brothers, his mother Marilyn and seven fathers.
Henderson’s father died of Lou Gehrig’s disease when the future big leaguer had just graduated from little league. In his father’s absence the Dawgs organization stepped up to help him reach his goal of being a Major League pitcher. Henderson paid tribute to those who supported his dream at the Dawgs’ banquet.
“I lost my father to ALS when I was 13 years old and these guys became my fathers,” Henderson told approximately 400 people at the banquet at the Foothills Centennial Centre. “Their sons became my brothers and they were truly family to me.”
Henderson, who toiled in the minor leagues for close to 10 years before getting the call to the big leagues on July 25, presented Milwaukee Brewers’ ‘Henderson 51’ jerseys to the five founders of the then Calgary Dawgs organization. He also presented an autographed picture to former Dawgs manager Brandon Newell.
The five men on stage receiving the jerseys were Dawgs’ executive director John Ircandia, Brent Frostad, Don McLeod, Don Johnston and Barry Elliott.
Newell, a former scout with the Brewers, convinced Milwaukee to take a chance on the lanky right-hander.
They all played a part in Henderson making the majors and building arguably the top baseball academy in Canada.
“(The Dawgs) was John’s vision, but all these guys were there every step of the way,” Henderson said. “They were making sandwiches, helping at practices…
“Without these guys’ dedication none of the Dawgs would be where we are today.”
Henderson gave an inspiring speech about being drafted by the Montreal Expos in 2003, being bounced around by three organizations and playing in the not-so-bright lights of Huntsville, Alabama on his way up to Milwaukee. The hard-throwing right-hander literally outlasted the Expos and finally got the call up to the bigs last season.
He went on to pitch 30.2 innings in 36 games for the Brew Crew finishing with a 1-3 record, but most importantly for a set-up man had three saves and 15 holds. His ERA was 3.52 and he struck out 45 batters.
Although Henderson can paint the corners of the plate with his 98-mph heater, on the way up to the majors, he was like a starving artist, according to his mother Marilyn.
“I never told him that maybe this was it, that maybe he should give it up because getting to the majors was his dream,” Marilyn said. “I remember when he got the call from the Cubs to move up to Triple A. He called me and said: ‘Mom I have good news and bad news. The good news is I am going to Triple A. The bad news is, I only have $11 in my bank account.’
“He struggled for a long time.”
Old habits were hard to break for Marilyn, family and friends when they went down to watch her son pitch in Milwaukee.
“He took us out for dinner and when the bill came, we were ready to help him out like we always did,” Marilyn said with a smile. “Jim said: ‘No, this one is on me.’ It was the first time he had been able to do that. It brought a tear to my eye.”
She said Ircandia and other members of the Dawgs family would help every step of the way in Henderson’s career.
“The organization was a huge part of Jim’s life,” Marilyn said. “He would get out on the field and forget about his problems. His dad passed away and the baseball community was so welcoming to Jim and me as well.”
Marilyn has been a season ticket holder with the Okotoks Dawgs since the team came to the community in 2007. She will never forget opening night in June 2007 at beautiful Seaman Stadium.
“I got here and the parking lot and the stands were full — and I literally started to shake,” Marilyn said. “I was so excited for those men who were on the stage who had done so much for kids.”
Henderson is also paying back to the organization. He has helped coach Dawgs Academy players in Okotoks for the past several years — including the past off-season after his stint with the Brewers.
The pitcher has started a scholarship for Dawg Academy graduates, the first recipient went to Layne Currie, a Grade 12 student at Holy Trinity Academy.
The Dawgs retired Henderson’s No. 15 and presented the jersey to the pitcher during the banquet. The gesture wasn’t just because Henderson made it to the big leagues, according to Ircandia.
“Jimmy is a special guy — he is a true Dawg,” Ircandia said. “He is a special guy. It was a harder battle to get my son back (to play for the College Dawgs) than it was Jimmy. That is the kind of loyalty he has to the Dawgs.”
The Dawgs also celebrated their award winners for the 2012 College Dawgs season.
They were: MVP — Austin Voros; Pitcher of the Year — Matt Thornton; Rookie of the Year — Jerod Bartnik; and True Grit Award — Rylan Chin.
Proceeds from the banquet will go towards the Dawgs’ ongoing programs.