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    Yankees' prospect Henson still has a lot to learn

    Yankees' prospect Henson still has a lot to learn
    By Malcolm Moran, USA TODAY
    07/22/2001 - Updated 09:43 PM ET

    COLUMBUS, Ohio The fans approach the gentleman behind home plate hoping that he can tell them the preordained. They may not know Clyde King's official role with the New York Yankees organization as a member of the Special Advisory Group. They just sense that he is the connection between Cooper Stadium, home of the Columbus Clippers, and Yankee Stadium, the destination of everyone here.

    When King is in town, inspecting the prospects, they stroll down the aisle behind his seat and ask about the new third baseman, the most publicized of the Clippers. "I've had so many fans come up to me, saying, 'When are you going to call Drew Henson up?' " King says, and smiles.

    Again and again, he looks up at the hopeful faces and delivers his polite, stock answer: "We'll see."

    The education of Drew Henson continues as far removed as possible from the hype surrounding his 6-year, $17 million contract and his sudden departure last spring from his role as a quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate at the University of Michigan.

    Immediately, speculation focused on a permanent promotion to the Yankees as soon as next season. At that point in March, the contract brand new, the projections intensifying, Henson had accumulated a total of 600 at-bats in a 159-game professional career.

    His progress interrupted by a broken hand suffered in mid-April, Henson has batted .204 with two home runs and 14 RBI since his promotion to the Clippers on June 18. Between the intense scrutiny of life as a quarterback in Ann Arbor and a third baseman in the Bronx there is Henson's low-key existence here in Ohio State Buckeyes' territory of all places as he goes about the task of finding his swing.

    "You can only do one thing at a time," Henson said as he dressed at the start of a recent workday, nearly 5 hours before the first pitch. "You can't get everything perfect in a couple of days. One day I'm working on my feet. One day I'm working on my hands, until I'm comfortable with that.

    "It's hard, at times, to work on something all day and then you get in the game and you try to block the rest out and just swing, just hit. I just try to break it down like that, one little piece at a time, and then it will all come together when it does, I guess."

    Henson assembles the pieces a few miles south and west of Ohio Stadium, where Henson's Michigan Wolverines beat the Buckeyes last November. He still wears a Michigan hat around town, a preference that might have helped create the occasional reminders of his previous life. Scattered boos began each time he walked from the on-deck circle to the batter's box one recent evening, and persisted as each at-bat progressed. But in the minds of the people that matter most, the raves have been muted but clear.

    Talent is obvious

    Bill Robinson, the batting coach, leaned on the cage as Henson hit. "You can see the intensity, the maturity, are all right on the cusp, right there ready to happen," Robinson said. "We, as instructors, have to be a little bit careful. Especially me, now. I don't want to give him too much. ...

    "It's just going to take time for him to grasp these things. Now he has to carry it from the batting cage to batting practice and into the game. Sometimes between the cage and the game, you lose a little bit of translation."

    Those gaps, and the necessity of navigating them, explain the cautious compliments intended to minimize the hype. Robinson played 16 major league seasons, including the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates championship. He has been a coach or manager nearly every season since 1984. He knows how to recognize a struggle.

    "At times, he tries too hard," Robinson said. "He's really trying to live up to whether it's the financial security that he has or the billing that he has. You can see at times, especially at the plate, that he's trying to hit a three-run homer with nobody on base."

    After 57 years in the game, King recalled the advice of Branch Rickey, who signed him to his first Brooklyn Dodgers contract. "He said, 'Don't ever get too high or too low on a young player too quick. If you do, it will turn your wrong side out,' " King remembered. "I've always tried to remember that. How many times have you heard, 'This guy can't miss,' and then he would miss? How many times have they said, 'This guy will never make it,' and he becomes an All-Star? So we're not geniuses."

    All the right moves

    And still, within Henson's first month at the Class AAA level, there have been those moments.

    "I saw him make a play at third where he turned completely around and made an accurate throw to first base," King said. "A lot of infielders get disoriented when they turn all the way around. But I'm sure his footwork comes from football. His footwork is excellent. He just has a knack for playing the ball on the right hop."

    That ability was refined hours before game time in an otherwise quiet ballpark, as teammates began to stretch in right field. The only noise came from traffic on Interstate 70 beyond the left-field fence. A coach sent sharply hit grounders to Henson's left and right. These were not looping, tossed-out-of-the-palm bouncers of the standard pregame routine. These were stinging one-hoppers to his backhand and skimmers far to his left.

    This is the routine Henson embraced, the required daily consistency rather than the compressed emotions of a football life. "Getting up and knowing you're going to compete and play a game each day," Henson said. "The only responsibility I have anymore is getting to the ballpark, and putting in my work day, and being professional about it."

    Somewhere between the announcement of the contract and the eventual promotion, Henson has enjoyed as low a profile as he may have for a while. "And that's not bad, at all," he said. "Because at this level, you're always working on something and you're going to have ups and downs. You're going to have really good days and a lot of bad days. And the less attention that is put on each day, or each game, it makes it easier to go about your business."

    Soon after Henson's arrival here, following his promotion from the Class AA team at Norwich, Conn., Robinson went to dinner with Henson and his father. The coach told of his own experiences, the times he had tried too hard, the suffocating expectations he faced as a 23-year-old outfielder, traded to a rebuilding Yankees team in 1967 with all of six games of major league experience.

    And Robinson made a pledge, father to father: "I said, 'I would never, ever do anything that would hurt him.'"

    Clock not running

    The people around Henson, at least the ones here, understand that the success of his elevation will be determined by the quality of the education. When King was asked if there was a timetable, he quickly grew uncomfortable.

    "I hope not," he said. "I hope they don't put a timetable on him. That might make him rush to try to meet it."

    As King sat behind home plate and prepared for a game that was minutes away, he held his hands in front of his chest, palms facing the infield, and pushed them toward the green grass again and again. In Henson's previous life, a similar gesture by an official translated to pass interference. In his new world, King was attempting to push the future a little farther away.

    "Just let him be," King said. "And after a while, if he's not progressing like he should, give him hints here or there. But let him get settled. Loosen the reins on him. Don't hold the reins too tight. ...This guy is a talent. He's going to make it, sooner or later.

    "I would hate to see him come up and not do well and have to come right back," King said. "I would rather wait a little longer on him, make sure he's ready."


  2. #2
    Released Outright DandyRandy48's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    No comment.

  3. #3
    NYYF Legend

    Michaels07's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    Aberdeen NJ

    He needs at bats.

    He has all the Tools, give him time to develop.

  4. #4
    NYYF Legend

    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Fort Myers
    Well, well, everyone one seems to think that you just snap your fingers and presto!!!!!

    Tino and Scott just disappear.

    Nick and Drew will make everything better.
    Better than 4 World Series Rings and a current 1st place standing.

    Some fans really don't know how good we've had it. They actully think it will get BETTER before it gets WORSE. HA-HA. They are killin' me.

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