ESJH star’s college scholarship keeps Henderson playing family game

Published 12:12 am Saturday, July 23, 2016

LAPLACE — As a young baseball player in the youth leagues of St. John the Baptist Parish, Chase Henderson often stood out to his coaches.

Perhaps that’s because he usually was related to them.

For the most part, it was his cousins, Errol Manuel, now an assistant coach at St. Augustine, or Greg Joseph, who coaches the team at West St. John High, who told young Chase to choke up on his bat and keep his eye on the ball.

More often than not, however, it was his dad.

Wendell Henderson was a standout catcher at Leon Godchaux High School in Reserve, the forerunner to East St. John High.

Selected in the 28th round of the 1977 Major League draft by the Chicago Cubs, he opted to play for Grambling State University for four years. He was drafted again in 1981, this time in the 24th round, and spent five years knocking around the Cubs’ minor leagues.

“I’m glad I waited,” Wendell said. “Because when I got to the minors and saw the kids out of high school, they weren’t ready for it. They didn’t stay long. It was a culture shock to them, living out of a suitcase all the time. But when you go through that college life for four years, you understand that part of it.”

Never rising above AA ball, Wendell returned home to a job in the plants, to raise a family and coach some of the youth teams in the area — along with his son.

Chase followed his dad’s footsteps, developing a young love for the game, but not really understanding the legacy.

“I know he played at Grambling, I know he played in the minor leagues with the Cubs and he was a pretty good baseball player,” Chase said. “I never really thought about it, though. I just liked to play baseball.”

Whenever young Chase might question his dad’s wisdom, Wendell just had to remind his son that he used to get paid to play the game.

“All the time,” Wendell said. “It’s not what I think I know, it’s what I know.”

Wendell understands, though.

His father was Lawrence Henderson, who also played ball and also was a catcher. He went to Fifth Ward High School, then played for the semi-professional Garyville Giants of the old Sugar Cane League in the 1960s. He also made it to the minor leagues for a few years, also with the Chicago Cubs.

That makes Chase the third generation in his family, not only to play baseball but to catch.

Chase, grew up to play catcher for the East St. John Wildcats, hitting .300 with 24 RBIs and five doubles in 2016. He has signed to play for Claflin University in South Carolina, a Division II HBCU school. The Panthers won their first Southern Intercollegiate Athle-tics Conference (SIAC) title last season and earned the No. 7 seed in the South Regional.

Chase is hoping to earn a spot as the starting catcher — even though he prefers playing third base.

“I’m excited,” the quiet, soft-spoken 18-year-old said. “I’m ready to go.”

Wendell is ready to let him.

“I really don’t want to push him to do anything he doesn’t want to do,” Wendell said. “I do believe, if you want to play, then you’ll give it your best. If someone is trying to push you to play, then you’re not going to do your best.”

Wendell did spend the summer coaching the East St. John High summer team after the departure of head coach Jade Falgoust to Rummel, and school leaders are trying to convince him to take over the team fulltime next spring.

“We’ve got some young talented kids,” Henderson said. “They’re a team that, I think, is going to be on the rise. What I like about them is, they want to play baseball. They love to play.”

Wendell, though, wants to be able to go to South Carolina to see his oldest son and is leery of coaching his younger son, Cole, who will be a senior for the Wildcats this upcoming season.

“I didn’t want to coach them,” Wendell said.

“Once (Chase) got to be a freshman I stepped back. I wanted to let somebody else do it. It’s like this: I know what you can give me, and if you don’t give it to me every day, I’m going to be mad. So, in order for us not to clash on the field, I’d rather do it at home. You’re Daddy, not the coach.”

That was fine with Chase.

“I’m glad he didn’t coach me,” Chase said.

Now Wendell is ready to see what his son can do on his own.

“I tell him all the time, you’ve got to follow your dream,” Wendell said.

“But at the same token, there’s two things I always tell him: playing baseball is what got you to school. Getting your lessons is what’s going to keep you there.”