At his alma mater – with his high school sweetheart moderating his memorial – Dave Henderson was remembered by family and friends Saturday through intimate stories and fond memories of the late major-leaguer.
The service started at 1:35 p.m., “because that’s when he went to work” for the start of baseball games, his former wife of 25 years and high school girlfriend Loni Henderson started off by saying.
Two hours of touching and teary tributes later, it became all the more clear what Henderson meant to his rural hometown as well as to those closest to him.
About 500 people filled the Dos Palos High gym to pay their respects to the man nicknamed “Hendu,” who died Dec. 27 of a heart attack at age 57. Nearby was the Dos Palos baseball field named in Henderson’s honor.
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“He was always smiling and laughing, having fun,” said former major-league teammate Bryan Clark, who was raised in Madera but traveled from Bedford, Texas, to attend Saturday’s service. “He was a great teammate and a wonderful person to be around.”
14Years in the majors, highlighted by his place on the 1989 World Series champion Oakland A’s
Henderson spent 14 years in the majors, his career beginning with the Seattle Mariners, then taking him to the Boston Red Sox, Giants and the A’s before finishing his career with one season with the Kansas City Royals.
He got into broadcasting afterward and served as the color commentator for Mariners games.
But his path to stardom began at Dos Palos, the small town about an hour northwest of Fresno, where college football coaches visited to recruit Henderson and numerous scouts came to closely watch him on the diamond.
Dave Henderson starred in baseball but had a chance to play football after signing with Fresno State under then-coach Jim Sweeney.
A tight end, safety and running back on the gridiron, Henderson signed a national letter of intent to play football at Fresno State for then-coach Jim Sweeney.
Many, however, sensed he was leaning toward a pro baseball career after high school.
Dos Palos teammate Joe Castillo recalled Henderson playing before 19 scouts at one game and reaching low to golf a pitch for a long home run.
“There’s another $10,000,” Castillo recalled saying.
Henderson ended up signing with the Mariners, who selected him in the first round of the 1977 MLB amateur draft.
Clark, who played with Henderson in the minors for three seasons, then another three with the Mariners, recalled one offseason spent playing in Mexico.
Their Mexican teammates had asked where Clark and Henderson were from.
When the California kids responded “Madera and Dos Palos,” their teammates teased them for being from “wood and two sticks” (Spanish translation of the city names).
However, Henderson and Clark shared the last laugh, reaching the majors on the same day in 1981.
In the dugout, Henderson turned and leaned to Clark, then smiled while unabashedly showing that trademark gap between his front teeth.
“Ain’t that amazing how ‘Wood’ and ‘Two Sticks’ made it to the majors,” Clark recalled Henderson saying.
“It’s not where you are; it’s where you’re going,” Clark added.
Friends and family also revealed that Henderson never turned down a child’s request for his autograph.
Still having fun
Dave Henderson’s trademark phrase he’d add below his signature after retiring from baseball in 1994
Henderson often would write his signature, then just below would add: “Always having fun.”
When Henderson received autograph requests following his retirement in 1994, he’d sign baseballs saying, “Still having fun.”
“He was one of a kind,” said one of Henderson’s sons, Trent. “He is missed.”