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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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In Sports

Brewers reliever Jim Henderson is congratulated on a solid outing. (PHOTO: Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers; Mike Strainger / Nashville Sounds)

In Sports

Henderson has been an effective reliever so far in Milwaukee. (PHOTO: Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers; Mike Strainger / Nashville Sounds)

In Sports

Henderson pitched in 55 games over two years for Nashville. (PHOTO: Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers; Mike Strainger / Nashville Sounds)

Brewers reliever Henderson has had a long road to the majors


It was a dream that Nashville Sounds pitching coach Fred Dabney had countless times.

Nearly a decade in the minors will do that. Utica, South Bend, Sarasota, Iowa, Nashville, all the same – you pitch well while the general manager sits rows off home plate. He had to notice.

Night would come, and the dream would be about the call. Except for Dabney, reality never quite aligned with the vision, those pitches in front of 30,000.

He rubbed his face, washed up and got ready for work. Why would a small bayou town be any different than the others?

Six feet, 5 inches doesn't really mesh too well with conversion vans, but Jim Henderson knows a thing or two about getting by the game's inconveniences. Ten years he's been a minor league baseball player, drafted by a team no longer in existence and playing with guys who were worried about finding prom dates when he broke into rookie ball in 2003.

Dabney looked at Henderson as the van made its way through Metairie, La. Something was different about that dream.

Dabney has been retired for 16 years; his last pitch coming for the Iowa Cubs in 1996. The dream he had – the call that came – wasn't for him. It was for the 29-year-old righthander folded into a seat nearby.

It was a first for Dabney. He's witnessed hundreds of transactions, good and bad, in his 15 years as a coach, but never once had his subconscious proffered such a scene.

Henderson wasn't quite Crash Davis, a converted starting pitcher with a career record of five games over .500 and an earned run average a shade under 4.00. He commanded respect nonetheless, even if he rarely raised his voice enough to hear his distinct Canadian accent.

The van started up, off to a workout during a series against the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Pacific Coast League.

Dabney told Henderson about his vision on the way to the workout. The quiet Canadian laughed.

"Well, hopefully your dream comes true," he said.

In the three-game series against the New Orleans Zephyrs, Henderson saved two games. He picked up his 15th save for the Sounds after an inning of shutout work against Memphis on July 24 back in Nashville, lowering his ERA to 1.69 and increasing his strikeouts per nine innings to 10.5.

Less than 24 hours later, Sounds manager Mike Guerrero called the team together.

Apparently, a tall Canadian was harassing some girls in the stands.

The team broke up at Henderson's expense, a prelude to the real news – he was headed to Milwaukee.

Dabney's vision had materialized just days later, and the veteran baseball man had to leave the room, choked with emotion.

Quitting time?

It's been a long road for Henderson, one that nearly ended in 2008. It was then when thoughts of quitting the game first crept into his head.

The year before, he appeared in 42 games for Class AA Tennessee in the Chicago Cubs organization, posting a 4-3 record with a 1.86 ERA. He earned a promotion to Class AAA Iowa, appearing in eight games with a 5.54 ERA.

The next year started slowly however, as he recovered from a herniated disc in his back. As he began to throw in extended spring training, he noticed he lacked punch in his throwing arm. He figured it would return as he built up his strength, but after eight games it gave out.

Torn labrum. Torn rotator cuff. Toss in a bone spur for good measure. Not surprisingly, the Cubs released him.

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