By IAN WILSON
Some coaches with connections to Calgary are hopping from the minor leagues to the majors.
The Milwaukee Brewers announced some coaching moves this week that will promote Jim Henderson from the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, where he was the pitching coach last year, to the role of bullpen coach with the big-league club.
The former Major League Baseball (MLB) closer was a member of the Calgary Dawgs of the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) in 2003 before he was drafted by the Montreal Expos that summer.
From there, Henderson began his minor-league journey to The Show, the Dawgs moved to Okotoks where they found success in front of full crowds at Seaman Stadium, and – more recently – the WMBL was rebranded as the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL).
The lanky Calgarian pitched professionally for 14 years, including parts of three different seasons with the Brewers and one campaign with the New York Mets in 2016. His MLB totals include a 10-11 record, 31 saves, 177 strikeouts and a 3.68 earned run average through 137 innings and 155 games.
His coaching travels also involved several stops in the minors, but Henderson’s ascent as a skipper has proven much more rapid this time around. After joining Milwaukee’s organization as an assistant to the professional scouting department and a bullpen coach with the rookie-level Helena Brewers in 2018, he took on the assignment of pitching coach for the Single-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers the following season. Henderson spent the last two years serving as a pitching coach in Triple-A.
The 39-year-old is taking over from Steve Karsay, a former first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, who is stepping down to spend more time with his family.
Henderson earned the promotion alongside Matt Erickson, who was named the infield and assistant hitting coach.
“He knows the game inside and out and he’s able to communicate that … what Jim does a great job with is he has tremendous feel for what is happening on the field or in the bullpen, and now he knows the analytics as well,” Erickson told beat writer Adam McCalvy in a story for MLB.com.
Erickson was an assistant coach with Wisconsin when Henderson was the team’s closer in 2009, and the two worked together again for the Timber Rattlers ten years later when Henderson was the pitching coach and Erickson was the manager.
“For both Jim and I, we’re not stepping into a brand new situation,” Erickson added in his interview with McCalvy.
“There are some current relationships built, and both of us are Brewers, you know? We played for the Brewers, we have now coached a number of years in their system and want nothing but the best for the organization.”
In addition to playing for the original Dawgs team, which inspired the Core 4 (+14) Corner addition at Seaman Stadium, Henderson has returned to Okotoks as a guest coach at Dawgs Academy on a number of occasions, and he was an interim coach with the summer collegiate Dawgs in 2017.
Henderson, who also played for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in 2013 and 2017, was excited to be getting the call to the majors with Erickson, who he called an excellent communicator.
Erickson, meanwhile, was an infielder for the Calgary Cannons in 2001 and 2002. During his time with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) squad, he played 223 games and amassed 237 hits, 129 runs, 52 doubles and 26 stolen bases.
He’s worked as a manager in Milwaukee’s system at the Single-A level for the last decade.
Another alum of the Calgary Cannons also got promoted recently.
Frank Gonzales, who came out of the bullpen 25 times for the Cannons in 1997, was named the pitching coach of the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes this week. (Incidentally, the Cannons were relocated from Calgary to Albuquerque and became the Isotopes in 2003).
Gonzales returned to Canada in 2011 and coached his son, Marco, who pitched for the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets in the WMBL.
Marco Gonzales has since become a member of the starting rotation with the Seattle Mariners.