CLEVELAND – Gunnar Henderson predicted that he’d reach the majors this year. He set it as a goal before his season began at Double-A Bowie. So confident that he texted it to his girlfriend, Katherine Lee Bishop, who took a screenshot as proof.
Here he is. Perhaps in a location he couldn’t have known about, but on the Orioles roster and starting for them tonight at third base.
“That’s pretty cool to accomplish that,” he said today while standing at his new locker, “but the road’s just starting, so the work keeps on going.”
Henderson had to block out the distractions while concentrating on each at-bat, each ground ball, in order to become the youngest Orioles position player to debut since Manny Machado in 2012.
Tabbed by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect didn’t exactly quiet the room.
“Just growing up, my family really instilled, just don’t let the outside noise get to you,” he said. “I felt like, just even all throughout pro ball, I’ve done a good job of just kind of tuning that out and going into each day with the right mindset and just trying to get better each and every day.”
Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton called Henderson into his office last night with the news. A burger order after getting three hits wasn’t going to be the highlight.
“I didn’t have any idea if it was coming,” Henderson said. “I felt like I just needed to go into each day with the right mindset, and keep putting myself in the right position, and I felt like ultimately something good would happen.”
Henderson played second base last night for the Tides. The Orioles switched him to the right side of the infield, including back-to-back starts at first base, to expand his comfort zone and give them more flexibility after his anticipated arrival.
A hint that Henderson wasn’t staying in the minors through September.
“I felt like it was just adding more versatility to the bag, and hopefully if I got called up, then I’d be able to play whichever position they needed me to, and versatility certainly helps. So glad to do that and hopefully help the team make a playoff push."
Henderson said he’s fine with any position.
“I felt like I got some good work in down at Norfolk with Buck and being able to play in some games,” he said. “I played a good amount of games the past two weeks at second base and at first base, so I feel comfortable over there and I feel like I can do it up here, as well.”
The Orioles aren’t shy about introducing young players to the club’s first pennant race since the rebuild. The situation in Cleveland tonight, with the Orioles three games back for the last wild card spot, adds multiple layers to the debut.
“Last year I got called up to Bowie and they were in the playoff push and we ended up making that,” Henderson said, “so being able to do it again this year, and especially at the big league level is going to be really awesome and really special.”
Henderson’s first phone call was to his parents, Allen and Kerry. Katherine was next. The family, which includes brothers Jackson and Cade, and grandparents TJ and Barbara, began scrambling to book flights.
“They should all be here,” he said. “I think they got in about 30 minutes ago.”
The prediction came true.
“I feel like just going into Triple-A and just playing my game and just showing what I can do, I felt like I was putting myself in the right position to be able to do that,” Henderson said, “and ultimately it happened and I can’t thank God enough for putting me in this position. Really looking forward to it.”