Nearly a week removed from the most momentous day of his athletic career, the reality of his situation finally set in for Damian Henderson.
After not hearing his name called in a highly condensed, five-round Major League Baseball Draft in June, the former Cal State Bakersfield outfielder landed a professional contract last Friday when he signed a free agent deal with the Cincinnati Reds organization.
Henderson, who is currently competing in the CarShield Summer League in Missouri, has been busy with team activities all week and says it took awhile for him to fully grasp the enormity of his situation.
That all changed Wednesday afternoon, when he took part in an online orientation with team officials. After leaving the meeting, Henderson said the realization that he was officially a professional baseball player totally set in, and his excitement was easy to detect while speaking over the phone several hours later.
"After having these orientation meetings, I feel like I belong," he said. "I feel like I'm a Red and I love it. I'm one of the luckiest people on the planet."
The signing comes after Henderson came out on fire during CSUB's 2020 campaign. Before the season was canceled, he was second on the Roadrunners with a .321 batting average, while leading the team in home runs (2), RBIs (10), hits (17), on-base percentage (.446) and slugging percentage (.528).
While his offense helped him get Cincinnati's attention, it was Henderson's arm that put him over the top.
Despite not throwing a single inning in a year-plus of play at CSUB, Henderson was coveted as both a position player and pitcher, and a recent bullpen session at the Mountain West Baseball Academy in South Jordan, Utah proved invaluable in him getting an offer.
"I threw 94 to 96 (miles per hour) and that's what they were looking for," Henderson said.
CSUB coach Jeremy Beard, who believes Henderson has the capability to eventually throw 100 miles per hour, was planning to work him into the rotation at some point in 2020 and believes his pitching skillset "gives him the best opportunity to wear a big league uniform."
"It's hard to tell exactly what he'll be doing in the long run," Beard said. "But when you have an arm like that and an ability to throw like that, that's really hard to find."
When and where Henderson will begin his career remains a mystery as the coronavirus pandemic has forced a complete shutdown of the minor league system. But whenever he gets the call, he says any destination will do.
"Send me wherever, I just want to play some ball," he said. "This is my dream. Just give me and chance and I'll make it worth their while."
METZGAR JOINS CSUB STAFF
Another former 'Runner who landed in the pros will make his return to Bakersfield this season.
David Metzgar, who played at CSUB from 2014-17, will join Beard's staff starting in 2021, working with the team's hitters and infielders.
“We are extremely excited to have David back in the program," Beard said. "He knows the offense and he’s going to be a tremendous help implementing our system. He knows the grind and the toughness we expect out of our players and I have no doubt that he will exemplify all the attributes it takes to win a championship.”
A career .341 hitter at CSUB, Metzgar, spent three years in the Yankees' system, getting as high as Double-A ball. He was the WAC Tournament MVP in 2015, helping lead the 'Runners to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.