09/05/2003 8:49 PM ET
Henson committed to baseball
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
Drew Henson was drafted by the NFL's Houston Texans in April 2003. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
NEW YORK -- Drew Henson sat in the Yankees dugout on Friday afternoon and stared down a group of reporters, declaring for what seemed like the millionth time that he was not ready to give up baseball.
A minute later, he made it a million and one.
Henson, the former University of Michigan quarterback and current third baseman for Triple-A Columbus, shot down the recent reports that he was ready to make the jump to the National Football League, announcing -- once again -- that his commitment was to baseball.
"I see the same stuff on TV, and to be honest, I don't know where it comes from," Henson said. "I'm under contract, I have three years left, and this is what I chose to do. It's a long process, and hopefully I'll end up where I want to be."
For Henson, that place is in the Majors, preferably playing in pinstripes at Yankee Stadium. But ever since the Yankees traded for Aaron Boone on July 31, there has been rampant speculation that the 23-year-old Henson will trade in his batting helmet for a football helmet and pursue a career in the NFL.
Henson's NFL rights are owned by the Houston Texans, who drafted him in the sixth round of April's NFL Draft. Houston would be an unlikely destination for Henson, as second-year QB David Carr is firmly entrenched as the Texans' starter, but the team could deal Henson's rights to another club if he announced his intentions to play football.
"I don't know how these rumors get started, but since the draft -- really, since I left school -- the same question keeps coming up," Henson said. "I haven't thought that much about [football], and I'd rather not go into that right now. Just getting here, being around a playoff-contending team, I'd rather focus on what I have going here."
Henson, who was drafted by the Yankees in 1998, was traded to Cincinnati for Denny Neagle in 2000 and reacquired before the 2001 season. After being dealt back to New York, Henson inked a six-year, $17 million contract, which has three years and $12 million left on it.
Henson batted .234 with 14 home runs and 78 RBIs in 133 games this season. He struck out 122 times, walked just 32 times and committed 28 errors.
"I'd like to have had a better season than the numbers finished, but I'm improving," Henson said. "I think that the people who saw me play every day would agree."
Yankees manager Joe Torre, who has seen Henson in each of the last three Spring Trainings, believes that Henson can succeed in baseball if he sticks with it.
"I'm probably as frustrated for him as he is for himself, because while he didn't expect it to be easy, he expected to be further along," Torre said. "With the success he's had in football, playing at Michigan, baseball breaks down your ego a little bit. I still think he's going to be a big-league player. Sometimes he gets in his own way by not being as patient as he needs to be."
With Boone locked in at third base for the Yankees next season -- and possibly beyond -- the possibility of moving Henson to the outfield has been raised within the organization. Henson said that he understood the Boone acquisition, and that he would do whatever it takes to make it to the big leagues.
"I'm a baseball player, and third base is my primary position, but whatever gets me on the field is what I'll do."
-- Drew Henson
"I'm a baseball player, and third base is my primary position, but whatever gets me on the field is what I'll do," Henson said. "This game is a business, especially here, so you just roll with the punches. If I'm meant to be a part of this team someday, I'll fit in somewhere. That's my goal, wherever it may be."
This is Henson's second stint in the Majors. He spent last September as a late-season callup. In his first go-round, Henson appeared in three games, going 0-for-1 with a run scored.
Torre said that with Derek Jeter and Erick Almonte on the shelf with injuries, Henson provides insurance in the infield as well as another pinch-running option.
Henson has only played two full seasons of pro baseball, and he feels that his game has improved in each of those years.
"I had limited experience. I felt as if I've been playing catch-up from the first day I got to Columbus," Henson said. "I may have been overmatched when I first got there, but I've moved forward."
Henson has not talked to the Yankees since the Boone trade with regards to his position in the organization, but he plans to do just that in the offseason. That said, he hasn't placed any kind of time frame on his baseball career, choosing to simply take things as they come.
"I threw the whole timetable thing out the door a while ago. From here forward, it's about doing what I need to do to improve to get here, whenever that may be," Henson said. "This is what I chose to do. Part of it is stubbornness, part of it is to prove people wrong. I feel like I can be a really good player, it's just a matter of harnessing my abilities and allowing them to take over."
After about 15 minutes of questions, Henson was asked once again if football remained a possibility sometime in his future. Henson laughed and repeated what has become his mantra.
"I can say the same thing again," Henson said. "This is what I'm doing, and I'm going to do it until we get it right."