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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dan Henley Interview, Part 2, No Regrets

Members of the Bakersfield Blaze wait for their turn at bat at Sam Lynn Ballpark in July 2012. Dan Henley played at Sam Lynn in 1987 and 1988. He's now an English teacher and baseball coach at Glendora High School in Glendora, Ca. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: That Dream | Part 2: No Regrets

Draft day came and Dan Henley waited to see where he went.

He'd turned down an offer from the Mets the previous year, as a junior from USC. Now, in 1986, Henley was coming off his senior season and ready to go pro.

When Henley learned where he was going, he learned it was to the Dodgers, his hometown team, as their seventh round pick. It was also the team his father Gail Henley worked for as a scout.

"When I was drafted, I looked at my dad and said 'you're kidding me,'" Henley recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently. "He's like, 'well, that's where you were slotted. You were the best pick available for us at the time.'"

With that mater-of-fact response, Henley was a member of the Dodgers organization, something Henley had dreamed of.

It was an organization he would spend five seasons in, getting to AAA Albuquerque, but never getting to Los Angeles. Henley spent one more season with the White Sox, also at AAA, marking the extent of his professional career.

Henley's professional teaching and coaching career in high school, though, has lasted much longer, now more than two decades.

Henley spoke to The Greatest 21 Days in late July at a La Verne, Ca., Chili's, a few miles from the high school where he now works, Glendora High School in Glendora, Ca.
A member of the Florida State League Palm Beach Cardinals takes a swing in May 2011 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Dan Henley played in the Florida State League in 1986 as a member of the Vero Beach Dodgers. (G21D Photo)
Henley's professional career began that year in 1986 after four years playing at USC and growing up in Southern California the son of a scout and sometimes minor league manager.

After being selected by the Dodgers, Henley had little negotiating to do. The offer was fair for a college senior, Henley recalled.

Sent to single-A Vero Beach, though, injuries followed him. He'd undergone multiple surgeries early in his college career, but remained healthy later.

At Vero Beach, injury hit him in his very first professional at bat, though the seriousness wasn't immediately known.

Running to first on a ground ball, Henley worked to avoid the double play. He beat the throw, but was thrown off balance and landed on his wrist. The first X-ray showed a break. The second one didn't.

After sitting out a few days, Henley recalled his manager, Stan Wasiak, the man also known as the "King of the Minors" for his longevity as a minor league player and manager, approached the young infielder.

"He goes, 'hey, son, you've got to know the difference between pain and soreness,'" Henley recalled. "'You've got to get back out there and play. It's not broken.'"

Palm Beach Cardinals wait for a pitch against the Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League in May 2011. Dan Henley played for the league's Vero Beach Dodgers in 1986, breaking his wrist on a fall running to first. (G21D Photo)
Henley responded that it did hurt. But he was also soon back on the field. "I learned to manage the pain and deal with it," Henley recalled.

He finished out the season hitting .210 in 43 games. As it turned out, his wrist was broken, as an examination after the season by the same doctor who did one of Henley's college surgeries showed. Henley recalled running into his Vero Beach trainer later and, seeing Henley's wrist in the cast, getting an apology.

But Henley was playing every day, as a pro. It was something he wanted. He was also getting the realty that all pro players get when coming out of college: They aren't as good as they think they are.

"You think you got the game nipped. You think you got it figured out because you go to a big-time university," Henley recalled. "But there's no substitute for playing every day. The repetition, how to field a ground ball propertly, becoming a good hitter because you've got a wood bat in your hand. There's definitely a learning curve."

There's also the realization of who people are watching. Henley recalled playing in the California League seeing scouts watch certain guys. Henley wasn't necessarily one of them.

It reminded him of his junior year at USC. Henley was taken in the sixth round. Another USC pitcher a junior by the name of Randy Johnson, was taken in the second.

Stockton first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones waits for a pitch at Bakersfield's Sam Lynn Ballpark in July 2012. Dan Henley played that infield at Sam Lynn in 1987 and 1988, primarily second base. (G21D Photo)
Johnson, who of course went on to achieve heights few have ever achieved, ended up getting what he wanted in 1985 after what Henley recalled as a mediocre junior season. Henley stayed for another year.

"I said to my dad, what's the deal?" Henley recalled of the 1980s conversation. "My dad looked at me and goes, 'son, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Randy Johnson is 6 foot, 11. You're 5 foot, 10. You do the math.' So as the son of a scout, that has always sat with me. Because it was my dad telling me the truth, something that I didn't want to hear."

At the same time, Henley also learned from his father not to fight that math, but be the best with his own math that he could.

"It was something that I learned from my father at a young age," Henley said. "'Embrace what you are, because that's not going to change.' I was never upset that I wasn't given different gifts.

"But he also said, 'and be good at everything that you do. Be a good hitter. Be a good fielder. Have a good arm. Understand the game. Know your role.' Those things, I think, kind of enabled me to progress and give myself a chance."

And Henley did progress. He stayed at single-A Bakersfield for two seasons, 1987 and 1988, hitting .229 and .243. He hit AA San Antonio in 1989, getting 72 games there. He also got his first look at AAA Albuquerque that year, 18 games.

He then returned to Albuquerque for all of 1990, hitting .305 in 87 games. But he never got his call up to Los Angeles.

Fresno's Chukchansi Park in 2012, home of the Giants' AAA Pacific Coast League team. Dan Henley played in the Pacific Coast League with AAA Albuquerque in 1989 and 1990, when the Giants' affiliate was in Phoenix. (G21D Photo)
When he made AA, Henley recalled thinking that it might happen, that he might make it to the majors. Getting out of single-A, he recalled, is an accomplishment in itself.

When he moved to the White Sox system for 1991, Henley continued to think it might happen.

"My first half at Vancouver was very good," Henley recalled. "I felt like I stood a good chance there. But then injuries, they hit me again."

His elbow hurt, his shoulder hurt. By the end of the season, he was on the disabled list. In just 70 games, hit hit just .195.

"Basically, at that point, I knew it was time," Henley said. "I'd been through the injuries. I knew what major injuries were. I knew what performance level expectations were. I knew it was time to move on.

"With that being said, no regrets."

It was also time to get serious about life. He was married to his now wife of 25 years Pam. They had a son Kevin. A second, Ryan, would come later.

Henley wanted to stay in the game. One route would be to coach or manage in the minors, or scout, like his father. That life ended up working out for his parents, he recalled, but he also knew it was a tough life.

Henley's wife was a teacher. And that's what Henley became, a high school teacher. Being a teacher also would give him an opportunity to stay with the game, as a high school coach.

So he got his credentials and set out being an English teacher. He even recently finished his masters.

Glendora High School English teacher and head baseball coach Dan Henley in July 2012. Henley played six years as a pro, but never made it to the majors. (G21D Photo)
Henley spent his first eight years in El Monte, Ca., at Mountain View High School. Five of those were also spent as head baseball coach.

His time since has been spent in Glendora, Ca., at Glendora High School, English teacher and baseball coach.

In the classroom, Henley says he regularly brings his background in baseball. At the start of each year, he said, he apologizes. He's going to make a lot of comparisons and analogies to sports. He also doesn't overwhelm, and always seems to stay on task.

"I can apologize for that," Henley said of bringing his baseball past into the classroom, "but I can't deny it as a strength because I have so many stories and things that are a part of me from baseball and sports that it would be a tragedy not to bring that to the classroom."

As a high school coach, Henley works with players at a wide range of skill levels. He's even had some really good ones, like a former player of his, John Alexander. Alexander was taken by the Rays in the eighth round of the 2011 draft, right out of Glendora.

Playing at rookie Princeton this, his second year, the 19-year-old Alexander has struggled. In late July, when Henley spoke, he recalled talking with Alexander on the phone the day before.

Henley's advice was simple. It was also advice from someone who had been there.

"I said, 'Grind it out, dude. You've got one month left. You're hitting .207. You're not the first person to do that. You can either really struggle the rest of the way, because you have a bad attitude. Or you can grind it out and be a .230-.240 guy and all of a sudden, people are looking at you and going 'alright, we like this guy.''"

As of late August, Alexander's average was back up to .230.

"They don't care about the numbers in the minor leagues, for the most part, except that you progress," Henley said.

Henley tries to use the same approach with his high school players, getting them to progress, achieve that next goal, improve the team. "But don't miss that opportunity," Henley said, "because those are regrets and you don't want regrets."

Part 1: That Dream | Part 2: No Regrets 

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