All Grown Up: Randy Henry Playing For Home Team

     Growing up in Arnett, Oklahoma, pitcher Randy Henry watched Texas Rangers’ stars of tomorrow play for the Oklahoma City Redhawks, the Rangers then Triple-A ballclub. Never did he ever imagine that he would not only get the opportunity to play in Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, but also play for the team he grew up watching.

     “I used to watch the Redhawks a lot when they were owned by the Rangers. I lived really close to there which was kind of neat. I like that ballpark,” Henry said. “I actually kind of upset when they went over to the Astros because I always thought it would be cool to play that close to home. I played there in some state tournament games and I played there in All-State games so I’ve been there a lot. ”

     From Oklahoma, Henry followed the careers of Rangers’ fan favorites while he continued to develop his own baseball skills as a pitcher.

     “Obviously, I always loved to watch old footage of Nolan Ryan throwing,” Henry said. “I was also a big fan of Alex Rodriguez and Pudge.”

     Henry posted strong numbers while at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix before being drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 draft by the Baltimore Orioles which was a new experience for him.

     “My experience with Baltimore was good. It was kind of different,” Henry said. “I had never been to the East Coast and never lived there.”

     Henry worked his way up in the Orioles organization making it to High-A, the Frederick Keys, in 2011. Following the season, the Texas Rangers traded Taylor Teagarden for Randy Henry and a player to be named later. Henry was shocked the trade happened and that he would be joining the team he loved as a kid.

     “The trade happened on December 1st on the deadline that day and it really just surprised me. I was working out that day and I hadn’t heard anything about it before it happened,” Henry said. “I actually heard it through Twitter and a couple of reporter people that are my friends before I even actually got the call two or three hours later.”

     Despite the shock, Henry said he was happy for the opportunity.

     “Anytime you can go somewhere and someone wants you to play for them, it’s a good opportunity. Also, I get to come closer to home,” Henry said. “I’m from Oklahoma so I knew it would bring me closer to home and it’s been a dream to play for the Rangers for a long time.”

     Henry spent his first season in the Rangers’ organization with the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans before being promoted to the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders for the 2013 season. Being close to his family was something important to Henry and he said they have definitely enjoyed his time in Frisco.

     “My family likes it a lot not only because they come down here a lot but I play in Tulsa which is closer to them,” Henry said. “They enjoy being able to come watch me play more and traveling to different ballparks and see me in different environments. On an off-day, I’ve been able to drive up and see my family when I wouldn’t be able to for six months at a time.”

     This season, Henry has been a major part of the Frisco bullpen. In 29 appearances, he has a record of one win and no losses while posting an ERA of 0.96 while striking out 36 batters. Henry has had a few setbacks but feels he has been progressing.

     “I was out for a month due to injury and I think that hurt me having to get back into the swing of things all over again kind of like spring training but I think it’s been a really good year and I’ve been learning a lot of different things,” Henry said. “But at the same time, I think there are a lot of things I’m still trying to get better at and need to work on to keep moving my way up.”

Joe Benson’s Clean Slate With Rangers Organization

Joe Benson, center, stands in the outfield before the game with Ryan Strausborger, left, and Chih-Hsien Chiang, right.

Joe Benson, center, stands in the outfield before the game with Ryan Strausborger, left, and Chih-Hsien Chiang, right. (Jarah Wright)

A loud crack of the bat sends a ball deep into the heart of Dr Pepper Ballpark. It’s a hot, windless Saturday night as the ball continues to carry. However, it dies and lands into the glove of Frisco RoughRiders’ outfielder Joe Benson.

It’s been a long road for Benson who began his baseball journey in the Minnesota Twins organization. Benson was drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2006 draft. He worked his way up through the organization before being called up to make his major league debut on September 6, 2011.

“It was awesome, just dreaming of playing in the big leagues since I was a little kid to going up there and the dream coming true,” Benson said. “It was absolute, complete satisfaction.”

Benson said it was surreal getting his first big-league hit off of Detroit Tigers’ starter Max Scherzer who was the starting pitcher for the American League in this year’s All-Star game.

“I had known Max when he was at the University of Missouri because I was recruited by them and he was playing for Team USA at the time,” Benson said. “Now that I look back on it, it was a pretty awesome accomplishment but I was just thrilled to get my first major league hit.”

Benson finished off the 2011 season in the Bigs and broke camp with the Twins in 2012. However, performance consistency paired with injuries held him back.

“Coming into the season, I struggled. They had to make a move so I got demoted,” Benson said. “A couple of weeks after that I broke my hamate (bone in wrist) which was another blow. I missed about six weeks with that and then coming back, I never really found my swing again.”

A knee injury at the end of the season eventually led to Benson having surgery.

“My knee had swollen up and I went in and got it looked at. I had an MRI and they saw a loose body. Going into surgery, I thought it would just be a loose body removal and I’d be out in the fall league,” Benson said. “It turned out Dr. Joyce had to go in and make a micro-fracture surgery with cartilage in my knee so I ended up being sidelined the rest of the year plus rehab in five months.”

Benson worked hard throughout the off-season building up mobility and range of motion to get into shape for the 2013 season. Despite the hurdles, he still had a shot at winning a spot with the Twins.

“I talked to Terry Ryan, general manager of the Twins, a couple of years and even though I had a rough season, they kept me on the 40-man roster,” Benson said. “I went to camp with the Twins with a chance to win the centerfield spot out of camp. I failed to perform very well and I struggled in camp and got sent to (Triple-A) Rochester, still on the Twins’ 40-man, with the plan that if I turned this around I could get called up in time.”

However, the struggles continued which led to Benson being claimed off of waivers by the Texas Rangers. He was assigned to the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders.

Joe Benson makes the catch in centerfield.

Joe Benson makes the catch in centerfield. (Jarah Wright)

“I was excited for the opportunity,” Benson said. “I didn’t want to leave Minnesota by any means but just knowing that another organization wanted to keep me on their 40-man roster and give me a second opportunity, I was absolutely ecstatic.”

Even though he was excited for the new opportunity, Benson said he was a little apprehensive because he didn’t know what to expect.

“I was nervous not just to be with the Rangers but here in Frisco with new guys on the team, a new uniform, and new surroundings,” Benson said. “But it has worked out well. The guys here are great. They’ve welcomed me from the beginning. I’ve been the butt of a lot of jokes because of my hot start here but everybody has been welcoming from my teammates to the front office.”

Benson had a strong start with the RoughRiders before another injury sidelined him.

“I didn’t want to tear my groin. I tried toughening through it,” Benson said. “By the time I had come back from playing in Midland, I got it looked at and I had a tear but injuries are part of the game. I wish it wouldn’t have happened because I was really into the zone when I first came here but you battle through it.”

He returned to Frisco at the end of July and is currently working with the rest of the RoughRiders to secure a playoff spot.

“I worked hard to get back. Baseball is a grind so I’m continuing to work every day trying to perfect hitting and different aspects of the game,” Benson said. “You can never be too good at anything, just continue to work hard, keep my head down and continue to play the game the right way.”

Former Pump Jack Making Impression In Minors

The stands of Dr. Pepper Ballpark are empty as sounds of baseballs being hit echo throughout the stadium. The Texas Rangers’ Double-A team, the Frisco RoughRiders, are wrapping up batting practice before their August 3rd game against the San Antonio Missions. Batters hit from inside the batting cage as infielders take ground balls from coaches who stand to the side of the cage. At first base is Brett Nicholas, a former East Texas Pump Jack who made it to the next level.

Brett Nicholas grew up playing Little League honing his skills up through high school before deciding to go to Gonzaga University. However, a position change would take him away from the Bulldogs.

“I chose Gonzaga because the academics were unbeatable compared to the other schools I was getting offers from. I was playing outfield and decided I wanted to start catching,” Nicholas said. “But we had a really good catcher at Gonzaga who got drafted by the Diamondbacks so there was no room there. I transferred to a junior college back home, Scottsdale Community College, because you couldn’t go from school to school without sitting out a year.”

It was through his junior college coach, Alex Cherney, that Nicholas was introduced to the Texas Collegiate League.

“My junior college coach was actually the manager of the Pump Jacks (in 2009) so when I left junior college, he has a spot open and asked if I wanted to come out and play,” Nicholas said. “He told me what a great time it was and he wasn’t lying. It was a blast. Kilgore is really small but the people were some of the nicest I’ve ever come across.”

One person that Nicholas still has a strong friendship with is his host dad.

“My host dad is a guy named Russ Fisher. I still talk to him to this day and he’s an incredible man,” Nicholas said. “He opened up his home to us for the summer and it was something special.”

Nicholas split time between catcher and first base during his time with the East Texas Pump Jacks in 2009 and was named to the All-Texas Collegiate League team at the end of the season. He learned a lot during his time with the Pump Jacks and said he grew as a player.

“We had a really good coach with the Pump Jacks. He was a pitching coach but he helped with the catchers because of the relationship with the pitchers,” Nicholas said. “He helped me work on staying as quiet and still as possible behind the plate that way you can adjust quicker and present the ball better to the umpire.”

Nicholas added that the lifestyle he experience while with the Pump Jacks was great preparation for the minors.

“It was big because you did so much traveling. It helped you for the day to day grind that minor league baseball is as far as traveling and playing that night,” Nicholas said. “We had some long travels down to Victoria so it really helped. Also, it’s hotter than heck down here so it helped with getting your body in shape and making sure you could withstand a lot of games in a short amount of time.”

At the end of the summer, Nicholas went to play baseball at the University of Missouri for a year before being drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Texas Rangers. Nicholas said he can remember being with his fiancée on draft day trying not to let his nerves get the best of him.

“I luckily went in the sixth round which is pretty early but I think everybody just tells you that you’ll go sooner so you sit by the computer or by your phone thinking alright, maybe this pick,” Nicholas said. “Luckily my fiancée was there to keep me calm. Once your name gets called, it’s combines everything you’ve worked for and it’s such a happy feeling. Your anxiety turns to complete joy so it’s an emotional whirlwind.”

Since then, Nicholas has worked his way up through the Rangers’ farm system to land in Double-A Frisco this season. Nicholas currently leads the team with the highest batting average and most home runs. He was also selected to the 2013 Texas League All-Star Game. Even though he has been recognized for his achievements this season, Nicholas said there’s always room for improvement.

“I know some of the names that have gone through the all-star teams here in the Texas League and they are some of the best that play the game. It was a huge honor and I think it was another stepping stone,” Nicholas said. “Everything has gone well so far but there’s more that needs to be done. It’s a nice thing to experience but to realize you’re not there (major leagues) yet, you know you need to work harder as you learn more.”

As Brett Nicholas works on continuing his climb to the majors, he said he never forgets his time with the East Texas Pump Jacks and hopes to give back.

“It was a great experience and it’s made me not only into a better baseball player but a better person, being around the quality of people that are in that town,” Nicholas said. “It’s helped me realize that when I get older I want to open my doors to somebody because somebody helped me out. I want to give back and be like Russ Fisher and provide somebody with the same experience he gave me and that I was fortunate enough to experience.”

Texans In MLB: National League Edition

Texas is known for a wealth of sports talent including baseball. Many native Texans have worked up through the minor leagues to become Major League Baseball players. Here we check-in with them and see how they have been doing in the 2013 season. In the National League, each team has at least one player except for the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here is a list compiled with stats for each of the remaining teams. These lists include players who were born in Texas.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Pitcher Will Harris is from Houston. So far this season, he has posted a record of two wins through 35 appearances. He has an ERA of 2.10 only allowing seven runs while striking out 35.

Infielder Cliff Pennington is from Corpus Christi. He is batting .239 with 54 hits and 17 RBIs.

Atlanta Braves

Jordan Walden has compiled a record of four wins and one loss this season. The Fort Worth native has a 2.31 ERA striking out 46 batters over the course of 42 appearances.

Dallas native Evan Gattis made his major league debut in April. The utility player has a .246 batting average with 57 hits and 46 RBIs and is slugging .491.

Paul Janish has played 21 games so far this season. The utility player from Houston is 0-5 at the plate so far this season with a walk.

Cincinnati Reds

Starting pitcher Homer Bailey is from La Grange, Texas. He currently has a record of six wins and ten losses with a 3.55 ERA. In 144.1 innings pitched, he has struck out 145 batters.

Reliever Logan Ondrusek has pitched in 33 games this season. The Hallettsville native has put in 33.2 innings of work with an ERA of 4.81 while striking out 29 batters.

Beaumont native Jay Bruce is hitting .274 with a .503 slugging average. The right fielder has 122 hits with 23 home runs and 75 RBIs.

Colorado Rockies

Pitcher Matt Belisle is from Austin. He has compiled a record of five wins and five losses with an ERA of 4.39. In a span of 53.1 innings, he has struck out 43 batters over the course of 50 games.

Lubbock native Chad Bettis made his major league debut on August 1st and has pitched in two games since getting called up. He has an ERA of 6.30 in 10 innings of work with 3 strikeouts.

Charlie Blackmon is originally from Dallas. The outfielder  is hitting .237 and slugging .395 with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Pitcher Clayton Kershaw is originally from Dallas and has compiled a record of 10 wins and seven losses. He has an ERA of 1.91 through 24 games including pitching two shutouts. Over the course of 174.1 innings, Kershaw has struck out 166 batters.

Fellow pitcher Chris Withrow is from Austin. Withrow made his major league debut this season back in June. Since then, he has compiled a record of one win and no losses pitching in 14.1 innings striking out 18.

Houston native Carl Crawford is batting .284. The outfielder has 78 hits including 17 doubles with 18 RBIs and is slugging .415.

Miami Marlins

Nathan Eovaldi is also from Houston. The pitcher has racked up a record of two wins and two losses with an ERA of 3.19. He has struck out 33 batters through 53.2 innings.

Lubbock native A.J. Ramos has compiled a record of three wins and four losses. The pitcher has pitched 58.1 innings striking out 61 batters with a 3.09 earned run average.

Justin Ruggiano hails from Austin. The outfielder is hitting .199 with 12 home runs, 32 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases.

Milwaukee Brewers

Corpus Christi native Michael Gonzalez has pitched in 57 games this season with three losses and a 4.05 ERA. He has struck out 48 batters over the course of 40 innings.

Tyler Thornburg hails from Houston. The pitcher has appeared in eight games and earned a win while striking out 21 batters.

New York Mets

Pitcher Scott Atchison hails from Denton, Texas. He has two wins and no losses under his belt through 27 appearances including a 3.08 ERA. Atchison has struck out 13 through 26.1 innings.

Cleburne native Dillon Gee has pitched his way to seven wins and eight losses with an ERA of 3.97. He has pitched 131.1 innings striking out 98 batters.

Omar Quintanilla is from El Paso. The utility player is batting .229 and slugging .307 with 47 hits and 14 RBIs.

Dallas native Andrew Brown has played in 38 games this season and is currently hitting .227 with 15 hits and eight RBIs.

Philadelphia Phillies

Pitcher Kyle Kendrick is originally from Houston. He has compiled a record of 10 wins and eight losses with an ERA of 4.36 striking out 86 batters through 23 game appearances.

Laynce Nix is the only other Texan on the team. Originally from Midland, the utility player is batting .180 with 23 hits including four doubles and two home runs.

San Diego Padres

The Padres have two players representing the Lone Star State. Andrew Cashner is originally from Conroe and has a 3.80 ERA this season. He has a record of eight wins and five losses striking out 80 batters through 118.1 innings. Huston Street is originally from Austin and has a 3.47 ERA this season. He has a record of no wins and four losses striking out 27 batters through 36.1 innings.

San Francisco Giants

Brandon Belt hails from Nacogdoches. The utility player is hitting .266 with 23 doubles and 41 RBIs with five stolen bases.

Dallas native Roger Kieschnick made his major league debut in July. The outfielder has posted a .381 batting average through six games including eight hits and three RBIs.

Outfielder Hunter Pence is from Fort Worth. He has 51 RBIs including 14 home runs and 27 doubles with a .277 batting average.

St. Louis Cardinals

Randy Choate is from San Antonio and has a record of one win and one loss with a 2.70 ERA. He has also struck out 17 batters through 23.1 innings.

Houston native Shelby Miller is in his second season in the majors. He has compiled a record of 11 wins and seven losses with a 2.89 ERA striking out 132 batters through 121.1 innings.

Matt Carpenter hails from Galveston. The utility player has 130 hits including 34 doubles and 55 RBIs while batting .302.

The fourth and final Texan on the Cardinals is none other than David Freese who is originally from Corpus Christi. He is hitting .272 this season including 88 hits and 41 RBIs.

Washington Nationals

Anthony Rendon hails from Richmond, Texas. The utility player made his major league debut earlier this season. He’s currently batting .265 with 59 hits including 15 doubles and 18 RBIs.

Utility player Scott Hairston is originally from Fort Worth. He’s currently hitting .182 with four hits through 13 games including two doubles.

Frisco Outlasts San Antonio

On a hot Saturday night reaching temperatures up to 104 degrees, the Frisco RoughRiders took a 3-2 win over the San Antonio Missions in front of a crowd of over 8,000 after taking the victory in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

Texas Rangers’ rehabber Colby Lewis got the start for Frisco. It was his fifth rehab stint with the clube and his seventh rehab appearance in the Rangers’ farm system. Lewis is rehabbing a torn flexor in his right elbow. The Missions jumped ahead early in the game putting a run on the board after Reymond Fuentes belted a shot deep to center field off of the Major Leaguer.

Colby Lewis reacting to giving up a homer in the first. (Jarah Wright)

Colby Lewis reacting to giving up a homer in the first. (Jarah Wright)

The RoughRiders tied the game up in the fourth. Prospect Rougned Odor led off the home half with a double deep to center field. Brett Nicholas followed that with a double, trading places with Odor who came around to score.

Brett Nicholas belts a double in the fourth inning. (Jarah Wright)

Brett Nicholas belts a double in the fourth inning. (Jarah Wright)

San Antonio once again took the lead in the fifth. With one out, Cory Spangenberg stepped into the box and hit a double down the right field line. With a runner in scoring position, Rico Noel singled which brought in Spangenberg to make it 2-1. Looking to even the score in the sixth, Luis Sardinas led off the home half with a single to right field. One batter later, Brett Nicholas drew the walk to put two ducks on a pond for Joe Benson. Benson did not disappoint, hitting an RBI double bringing in Sardinas. Nicholas was thrown out at the plate trying to score the go ahead run before a ground out ended the inning.

Luis Sardinas hits a single in the first. (Jarah Wright)

Luis Sardinas hits a single in the first. (Jarah Wright)

That would be the last run to cross the plate for the next four and a half innings. Missions’ reliever Clay Zavada issued back-to-back walks to Brett Nicholas and Joe Benson. Chih-Hsien Chiang successfully laid down a bunt to move the pair into scoring position. A sac fly by Tomas Telis was deep enough to bring in Nicholas to seal a 3-2 victory. Phil Klein picks up the win and Zavada is tagged with the loss.