BY JIM WEBER
Daily Sports Writer
Published August 12, 2001
COLUMBUS Drew Henson is back in Columbus. Still hated because of his days as the Wolverines" quarterback, Henson hasn"t done much to change that image.
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After leading Michigan to a win over the city"s beloved Buckeyes last season, Henson hasn"t been responsible for many Columbus Clippers victories either.
He has a .201 batting average and 59 strikeouts in just 49 games as a member of the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate.
And Clippers"" fans haven"t been shy about letting him know how they feel about their new third baseman.
"Earn your money, Henson!" a belligerent fan yells.
"You should have stuck to football," hollers another from behind the home team dugout.
Clippers manager Trey Hillman takes personal offense to the abuse Henson takes during his home games.
"The biggest problem with it (heckling) is that most people have no idea the time and effort that goes into the work (for) playing," Hillman said. "And beyond that, most people don"t understand how long the development process takes and how difficult this is."
The development process might take especially long for Henson. He has been splitting time between football and baseball the last three years and has never played Triple-A baseball until now.
Henson hasn"t panicked about his struggles. He focuses on what he needs in order to improve.
"Just continue to work on your swing," Henson said. "It"s a matter of getting at-bats and experience. That"s really what I need right now. Things are coming together the more I play. The last three weeks, I"ve been swinging the bat with more confidence and feeling more comfortable," added Henson, even though his batting average has actually dropped in that time.
"He has a home run swing," Clippers" batting coach Bill Robinson said. "(I"m) just trying to let him know where his bat should be on certain pitches. It"s coming."
Both coaches have remained very patient with Henson, hesitant to rush his development.
"You know, if you overload him then you go through paralysis through analysis," Hillman said. "You can"t play professional baseball at this level analyzing everything that you do. It"s just got to flow."
At the same time, Henson is a $17 million investment and Yankees"" owner George Steinbrenner demands updates on his third baseman of the future. Therefore, the Yankees" gave Robinson a cell phone to notify them of any progress made.
"(I call) once every two or three days," Robinson said. "I call them when he (Henson) hits well and I don"t call when he doesn"t do well."
He might not be winning many fans over with his work at the plate, but Hillman has been very impressed with his play at third base thus far.
"Defensively, his development has progressed further than I would have expected it to (even) knowing what a great athlete he is," Hillman said. "He"s got an above average arm and he"s got above average range. Generally, you don"t see 6-foot-5 guys move laterally the way he can."
The former high school co-Valedictorian has realized his job isn"t going to be as easy as school.
"It"s the same type of thing (college and minor league baseball) you can stay up as late as you want, you get to sleep in but you have a job to do and you have to look at it that way. You can blow off some days at class but you have to come to the park. You"ve got to be professional, be ready to play each day."
With that attitude, Henson is already well-liked in the clubhouse despite his problems at the plate.
"He"s one of the youngest guys, (and he) gets along with everybody very well because his teammates really respect his work ethic and the way he goes about his business," Hillman said. Hillman also added that Henson is "one of the best workers I"ve ever seen."
After the Triple-A season ends, the Yankees will send Henson to play in the Arizona Fall League to gain some more experience. He will join Yankees top-prospect Nick Johnson, who has played 239 more minor league games, despite sitting out all of last year. The six-team developmental league runs until Thanksgiving.
Coincidentally, two days after the holiday is the Ohio State-Michigan game, which Henson hopes to attend.
"It would be a little tough and maybe a little weird to be there, but I"m going to watch every (Michigan game) and I"ll probably go to the Ohio State game if at all possible," he said.
While speaking of football, Henson denied a report in Ohio State"s student newspaper, The Lantern, about his decision to abandon his pigskin career. The Lantern reported he left Michigan because he feared injury behind an inexperienced offensive line.
"I never talk to them and I never said that," Henson said. The offensive line "wasn"t an issue at all."
Henson also plans to graduate this May from Michigan despite playing baseball on an every day basis. Henson said he needs 16 credits to graduate. To finish his graduation requirements, he will take eight credits of correspondent courses in the fall and another eight credits in the winter.
Once he finally gets a break, Drew will be in his new 3,500 square-foot home he bought for $995,000 in Tampa, Fla. this past June. There, he will be minutes away from the Yankees" training facility.
"I"ll give myself every opportunity to be there as much as possible," Henson said.
He still has three weeks before the season closes out. But if not this year, Robinson believes it is just a matter of time before Henson starts to feel comfortable playing Triple-A baseball.
"I"d like to say tomorrow, but you can"t really put a timetable on it," he said. "Certainly, he needs to play and he will continue to play. All of a sudden everything will click for him and he"ll be up with the Yankees."