The Milwaukee Brewers have always believed in Jim Henderson.
No matter the situation, the Major League Baseball franchise has forever had the confidence in the Calgary native to get the job done.
From 2012-14, the club trusted him as its closer.
But these days, the Brew Crew are certain he can mould young minds and guide live arms as pitching coach with their Triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds.
“I’m moving up quickly,” said Henderson with a chuckle, when asked about his meteoric rise to a plum position in the Brewers organization.
“I kind of questioned the jump up to Triple-A a little bit, like ‘Oh, wow … this is kind of a quick move,’ and I was maybe a little nervous,” continued the Central Memorial High School graduate. “But the front office said, ‘Listen … you’ve been a coach or a scout — evaluating players pretty and watching baseball pretty much your whole life — so this shouldn’t really be too shocking.’ That gave me some confidence.”
So Thursday, he’ll take that conviction to the field along with pitchers and catchers in Arizona — where Henderson and his family have called home since 2013 — marking the unofficial start of spring training for the Brewers in a bid to complete a COVID-free campaign ahead.
It also marks a new adventure for a guy who has seen a lot in the game.
“If you could pick a scenario going back through my minor-league baseball career, I think I’ve been in pretty much every situation,” Henderson said. “From injury to being released to being called up and sent down to going through the system twice — I made it to Triple-A (in 2008 with the Chicago Cubs organization) pretty seamlessly the first time and then had to have (shoulder) surgery and had to start all over again at Low-A and then make my way up again (in the Brewers system).
“Not a lot coaches have that as their background as far as testing their will.”
Indeed, the onetime star hurler for the Okotoks Dawgs has been around plenty of professional ball since being drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 26th round of the 2003 MLB Amateur Draft out of Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tenn.
He pitched in the pros for 14 seasons, including parts of three with the Sounds (2011-12, 2014). He weaved his magic in the big leagues for the Brewers (2012-14), for whom he recorded 28 saves during the 2013 campaign, and the New York Mets (2016) and compiled a 10-11 record — alongside 31 saves — with a 3.61 ERA in 155 career MLB games. Over his three-year stint as a player with Nashville, he appeared in 58 games and was a 2012 Pacific Coast League all-star.
That experience is darn hard to come by.
“And I think it helps that I’m young and that I just came out of the game,” said Henderson, who — after shoulder surgery in 2015 slowed him down — was still trying to make a big-league roster as late as 2018 before the Brewers coaxed him to come scout and coach for them. “You are seeing is a younger crowd coming up with all the analytics that the new-school coaches bring to the game. I would say I’m kind of caught in the middle of the teachings and how the game is evolving. I’m getting the best of both worlds.”
The Brewers certainly feel he can get the top-shelf stuff out of their pitching prospects, since he can relate to them after bouncing around all levels of ball during what was a wild ride after moving on from the Dawgs.
“Jimmy was the consummate athlete,” said Dawgs Academy founder John Ircandia, who credits Henderson’s work ethic for his sudden coaching success. “Jim was about athleticism and determination and competitive spirit rather than mechanical things and analytics, which is what they want nowadays.
“I’m not surprised, though, because he’s such a winner. So to that extent, he’s the kind of guy who can really inspire young pitchers.”
The Brewers are banking on it, even though Henderson’s just four years into his coaching career.
He started with them in a half-coaching/half-scouting post in Arizona in the spring of 2018.
Then he helped out with the short-season rookie-level club as a second pitching coach with the Helena Brewers in the Pioneer League.
The next year, Henderson was promoted to the head pitching coach position with the Wisconsin High-A Timber Rattlers. And later in 2019, he worked with top prospects in the Arizona Fall League, where he felt his coaching stock took off.
Last season, with COVID wreaking havoc on the sport, he spent time lending his knowledge to players at the Brewers’ alternate site.
“Some of these messages that can be given to players nowadays can be a bit confusing,” said Henderson, who joins plenty of familiar rising stars in Nashville — Brewers pitching hopefuls such as Zack Brown, Aaron Ashby and Clayton Andrews. “A lot of organizations now have coaches like myself who can bridge that gap. I can break it down and speak in their language and help these guys understand what the front office and the analytics are saying and help them go about their work.
“Kids at the Triple-A level are good enough to pitch in the big leagues. It’s just a matter of refining things and seeing areas of the game that we can bring to the surface.”
Whatever the task at hand, Henderson says he has the Brewers to thank for his new lot in life, which he hoped would be part of the plan all along after his playing career.
“From Gord Ash to Doug Melvin — Canadian boys who were running the Brewers front office in my time as a player — and then a relationship I built with the team through the years, I got the opportunity to play at the highest level and then the call back wanting me to coach,” added Henderson. “It’s been a good relationship with them.
“Now that I’m coaching, I’m really just kind of trying to soak it in, trying to learn as much as I can. As far as the future goes, I’m just trying to take it day-by-day seeing how much I can absorb, trying to make the guys better. I’m living in the moment right now.”