This is totally off-brand and is going to kill our beloved Justin Bopp, but I'm at home in a Winter Storm Warning with two kids feeling sad about Dave Henderson, one of the reasons I became a baseball fan. So I need to tell that story.
In 1989, I was a 10 year old attending Spring Training for the first time, going to see the Giants in Scottsdale and the Athletics in Phoenix. The A's had just bashed their way to an American League pennant and sported a dizzying array of stars. Spring Training was still less formal then, and fans could get very close even to the major league players as they walked between drills and batting cages.
I was nervous and intimidated as hell about getting close to virtual, and in Mark McGwire's case literal, giants who I had watched on TV and whose baseball cards I collected religiously. I had a few of those cards with me and a very dirty old baseball, and I had hoped to get autographs. But, like I said, I was worried about getting close, and bothering them. I didn't want to make them angry. Didn't want to inconvenience them. It's still something I struggle with when I'm lucky enough to cover a game from a stadium.
It was Dave Henderson who broke the ice. Hendu was 30 years old and coming off his best season, where he had hit .304/.363/.525 with 24 homers and (largely unrecognized) Gold Glove caliber defense in center field. He bounded towards the large gaggle of kids and pathetic adults assembled. Not trying to get past. He came right up to us. He had a huge smile with a prominent gap between his front teeth.
He loudly called to us, "Now I'm Dave Henderson. Don't be disappointed. Rickey is my brother." (Rickey would join the A's later that year in a trade with the Yankees that would give the A's a dream outfield of two Hendersons and Jose Canseco.)
I don't know how long Dave Henderson stayed, but he made sure everybody got one signature. He talked with several of the kids. Eventually, somebody from the cages yelled "Hendu, come on!" and he had to leave. But he made a dusty community college in Phoenix feel incredibly welcoming to a kid who felt horribly out of place and like he was being a bother.
The rest of that morning was fantastic. Carney Lansford signed my baseball. Mike Gallego too. Walt Weiss signed his rookie card. I got Mark McGwire's autograph in bright pink. And a visibly annoyed Ozzie Canseco signed my baseball so clearly as he passed.
My time with Dave Henderson, however, has stuck with me. It's a powerful memory, like Abram realizing that God not only knew who he was but had a vested interest in him. I came away from that interaction different. More comfortable, for one. But also more enthusiastic for the game and the people who played it. Now, time and reality have taught me not to read too much into this interaction. I have no idea if Dave Henderson was a good man or not. I know he was a great player, and that teammates and fans universally loved him everywhere he played. I also know that he made my life better, because baseball has helped me get through times in my life that were difficult.
So today, as I learned that he passed away at 57 from a massive heart attack, I'm incredibly sad for his family and grateful for his presence in 1989. Thanks, Hendu.