Scouts a familiar sight at FB games

Published 9:12 pm Saturday, April 7, 2012

First Baptist Christian School player Josh Henderson slaps the hand of coach Orel Schleeper as he rounds the bases after hitting a home run. A National League scout and an American League scout have both attended games to observe Henderson.

By Titus Mohler

The life of Josh Henderson, First Baptist Christian baseball star, has begun to turn into something epic — and not just because he may be playing for a Major League Baseball team later this year.

“You’ve got a perfect role model,” First Baptist coach Jeff Meyers said. “Someone who not only is a great athlete — because great athletes are a dime a dozen — but it’s the package. It’s the great athlete, the Christian, the character, everything else about him is what makes Josh who he is.”


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“We’re blessed,” First Baptist coach Orel Schleeper said. “We are very blessed to be able — and all of our players — to be affiliated with a talent and the character he has.”

Schleeper has coached the 17-year old Henderson since he was in 10th grade, and Meyers joined him this year as varsity coach. Henderson does not attend First Baptist Christian School, though. He has been homeschooled since the second grade and the Crusaders are allowed to have a select number of homeschoolers on their team.

Henderson first started to get widespread attention in the baseball world when he played in a National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., in June 2011. He was among the top 300 players in the country who were invited to play before stands packed with college recruiters and Major League scouts.

Henderson was able to get the invitation to this event because of his play with the Evoshield Canes Baseball program. He credits Canes coach Jeff Petty for having the connections to raise awareness about him.

After some other showcases during the summer of 2011, it became apparent that nothing would be the same again for Henderson when this year’s season at First Baptist rolled around.

“That’s when the scouts just started just really coming out to our games and practices and different things like that,” Henderson said.

Asked which Major League Baseball (MLB) teams have sent scouts to watch Henderson play, Schleeper and Meyers said it would be easier to name the teams that have not sent scouts — yet. Most have, including the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Angels and Dodgers.

To find out when certain games would be played, calls started coming in to First Baptist.

“At first it was individual teams,” Meyers said, “but then it was, ‘The MLB called. Said they wanted a schedule ‘cause they were just going to publish it, there was so much interest in Josh.’”

For Henderson, the attention has become familiar to him now, and he has developed a way of handling it.

“I’m used to it,” he said, “so it’s just like, ‘Oh well,’ just pray to God, ask God to help me, just go out there and do everything to His glory. Just go out there and play for Christ.”

The Crusaders game this past Thursday featured more attention.

“We’ve been following him since last year,” a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies said. “He intrigued us enough that we wanted to come back in this year and see where everything was. He’s an athletic, what we call tools-oriented type player. The type of player we profile into our system.”

An enthusiastic American League scout spoke to something that sets Henderson apart from other prospects.

“You’re talking about a homeschooled kid who’s taken the time to come out and play,” he said. “I think he’s interesting.”

The AL scout explained that what Major League scouts are trying to do is think of what Henderson will be like in five years.

“When you dig deep, when you’re trying to look for a diamond in the rough, you got to dream a little bit,” he said. “They just don’t show up with a 14-karat diamond. Sometimes, it’s a piece of coal and it takes some time…”

He trailed off mid-sentence as Henderson had just hit a three run walk-off home run.

“He’s got some ability and there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I’ll be interested to see what happens as the spring rolls through.”

Both scouts said they cannot really predict whether or not someone will be drafted because of the multitude of variables in play. However, Henderson has other attributes that could work in his favor, according to Coach Schleeper.

“One of their questions is, that the Cubs guy asked me the other day, ‘How is Josh in the dugout?’” Schleeper said. “To be as high status as he is, he’s as humble as the rest of them. He takes our not-so-gifted players and he’ll go and he’ll work with them and give them a little extra attention.”

Coach Meyers also praised him for his incredible work ethic, remembering times when Henderson would come into Sluggers and just work on his swing for hours by himself.

When asked where Henderson rates among the players he has worked with, Schleeper knew immediately.

“Oh, he’s by far the best player I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached a lot of players. I’ve been coaching for 20 years,” he said. “It’s an honor. It’s just definitely a pleasure to have somebody like that. Probably once in a lifetime.”

With hopes to bring acclaim to Coach Schleeper, First Baptist and Sluggers, Henderson explained that he is ready for the MLB challenge.

“I’m just walking out there, almost like with the spirit of David, I guess — (with) confidence,” he said. “If I didn’t have the faith that I have right now in Christ, I would not be where I am today.”