Ray Henderson has played wherever he has been needed this season for the Quad-Cities River Bandits.
The ultimate utility player is even willing to do more.
“If they need me to get on the bump, I’ll go there, too,’’ Henderson said. “I can bring it at 82. There isn’t a doubt in my mind.’’
There isn’t any doubt in Quad-Cities manager Russ Steinhorn’s mind about how valuable Henderson has been for the River Bandits this season.
“Ray’s gone out and performed wherever we’ve needed him and guys like that who can play multiple positions and can handle whatever is thrown at them, they have a real value to any organization,’’ Steinhorn said.
Henderson’s value has grown throughout the second half of the season.
After seeing minimal playing time during the opening weeks of the Midwest League season, Henderson has played his way into a more regular role with Quad-Cities as the season has progressed.
Most often rotating between catcher and second base, Henderson has also played the outfield for the River Bandits.
“I had never really played the outfield before this season, but when they asked if they could put me out in left, I was like ‘Why not?’ I was willing to give it a try,’’ Henderson said. “It was a chance to learn a new position and help the team. It was a no brainer for me to at least do what I could do.’’
He arrived in the Quad-Cities in April not knowing exactly what his role would be.
Henderson spent all of spring training working as a catcher, but welcomed the chance to play second and later outfield when asked.
“I was ready to do what I was asked to do,’’ he said. “I played some second before, even some third in college. I’ll do anything for a chance to play.’’
The 2017 season has proven to be one of growth for Henderson.
“I’ve probably learned as much about baseball this year as I ever have,’’ Henderson said. “I’ve learned that I am capable of doing a lot of things in this game. It’s my first full season, like it is for a lot of guys here, and I’ve learned what it’s like to deal with that grind.’’
Quad-Cities has 11 games remaining on its 140-game regular-season schedule, a marathon that has taught Henderson about how to prepare and how to work.
He said time spent working with River Bandits strength coach Hazael Wessin and athletic trainer Elliot Diehl has proven valuable.
“Just learning how to keep my body ready to compete over the length of the season and understanding how to take care of myself to help that happen, that’s been big,’’ Henderson said. “We’re in lifting a couple days a week to maintain our strength even now, and it will all help us down the road.’’
One byproduct of Henderson seeing more frequent playing time during the second half of the season has been more consistency at the plate.
After hitting .190 during the first half of the season, Henderson hit .314 during the month of July and is off to a .300 start at the plate in August.
“I think it is as simple as having the chance to get in more at-bats,’’ Henderson said. “I’ve been in the lineup a little more often and I think that has helped me offensively. It’s been good for me and hopefully it’s been good for the team.’’
A 22nd-round selection of the Astros in the 2016 draft out of Grayson Junior College in Texas, the Orange, California, native joins catcher Chuckie Robinson and outfielders Daz Cameron and Ronnie Dawson as the only players on the current River Bandits roster who were with the team on opening day.
Even with a seemingly-always fluid roster which has underwent makeover after makeover including the promotion of 22 players to high-A Buies Creek, Quad-Cities has continued to succeed.
The River Bandits are currently 23 games over .500 for the season and Henderson believes that sustained success comes from the daily environment which has remained constant in the Modern Woodmen Park clubhouse.
“There has been an energy and a vibe in the clubhouse all season,’’ Henderson said. “The guys who have been here for most of the season have kept that going. We get along so well and that makes coming in every day something we look forward to. We like being around each other and that carries over to the field.’’
And for Henderson, that carries over all over the field.
“We’re relaxed. We’re having fun,’’ he said. “It couldn’t be better.’’