For O's rookie Gunnar Henderson, it will be a special weekend in Atlanta

KANSAS CITY – As the Orioles road trip moves on to Atlanta tonight, it’s going to be a special weekend for 21-year-old rookie Gunnar Henderson. He is very proud of his hometown of Selma, Ala. and the feeling is very, very mutual.

And that small town, where Henderson was raised and grew to love the game of baseball playing on a field his dad built at their house, is going to show out big time this weekend to watch the hometown kid that made good.

A town of 17,971 according to the 2020 U.S. census, many from Selma will be at Atlanta's Truist Park for the games. They’ll drive over three hours and just over 200 miles to see the kid they've known for years.

The hometown kid who grew up to become the No. 1 ranked prospect in all of baseball. That hometown kid.

Of course his family will be there, supportive as always. His dad Allen, mom Kerry, older brother Jackson who is 24 and younger brother Cade, a lifelong O’s fan who is about to turn 16.

But so will his extended family along with a lot of friends and staff from John T. Morgan Academy in Selma.

“It will be really special because, I mean, being from a small hometown,” said Henderson. “And to be the first player drafted out of my school and then being able to play relatively close to home will be special.

“I don’t think you would get this in a lot of places, but maybe these are the perks of being from a small town. You grow up together and know everyone’s family and now they want to support me so that is cool and special.”

When teammate Grayson Rodriguez pitched last month in his home state, his friends from Nacogdoches, Tex. turned out big and now Selma, which is south and west of Atlanta, will be there for Gunnar.

“He had a lot of people there. Maybe I can match that or have more. Probably it will easily be over 100 this weekend,” said Gunnar.

He said people in his small town had this game circled when the schedule came out.

“It’s just everybody knows we’re playing Atlanta and a small town, everybody knows everybody and word got around quick. Everybody has been getting tickets since the sales started. Going to be a lot of people there.”

Henderson said he has not experienced anything as he will this weekend yet in pro ball.

“No sir. Not even close. I guess Nashville, we had a decent amount of people, but nothing compared to this," he said, a huge smile on his face.

Henderson said there are only about 430 students in his school from kindergarten up through 12th grade. Small town, small school, but big hearts and they plan to show Gunnar that once again this weekend.

“We had the biggest graduating class ever there, something like 50 kids,” he said with a laugh.

“This definitely provides me with some hometown roots and something to look back on when you get older," he said.

Hyde talks prospects and hot Norfolk start: Triple-A Norfolk keeps winning and keeps rolling. The Tides beat Durham 5-4 Thursday afternoon. That is six straight wins, a 22-7 record and a run differential of plus-103.

Norfolk's offense has been spectacular, producing 214 runs, 50 homers and a team .897 OPS in 29 games.

And doing it with a few key vets, but mostly with young players all over the place hitting so well like Jordan Westburg, who hit one of their three homers yesterday and is batting .337 with an OPS of 1.000.

Before Thursday's Orioles game at Kauffman Stadium, manager Brandon Hyde was asked about his message to prospects raking on the farm that are trying to get to Baltimore.

“Keep doing it," he said. "Love to see our minor league guys do extremely well. And you know you want to prove to people that you shouldn’t be at this level. Every time we send someone down or they don’t make the team out of spring, it’s ‘Go put the pressure on people to move you.’ Those guys are off to really good starts, excited to see the progress they’ve made."

Brandon Hyde is enjoying Norfolk's winning ways and feels that some of the young players there being in such a winning environment will greatly benefit from that.

“Definitely for me there is a winning aspect of player development," he said. "You want to see guys and players win together. It’s definitely a bonus. That is a talented team down there and we got to see the majority of those guys in spring and saw how talented they are. Fun to watch them on a nightly basis and see how well they’re doing. It’s great for us to have depth at Triple-A and young prospects that we’re excited about.” 

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