Overcoming the odds
By: Brian Hensen-January, 2006
My name is Brian Hensen. I am 23 years old, 6'4', 170 pounds and a left-handed pitcher playing minor league baseball in the âHigh Aâ Florida State League in Lakeland, Florida. I was drafted in the 28th round of the 2004 draft by the Detroit Tigers, after having pitched two years at Elon University, and prior to that, for two years at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida. The second day of that 2004 draft was probably the best day of my life, because you see, according to most experts, I was simply not qualified to pitch professionally. I can only throw a baseball about 84 mph top speed. I just plain donât throw a baseball hard enough to make it to the next level, whether that be college or whatever.
Then you may ask, how in the world did you ever get drafted? Do you have a killer knuckleball, or is your dad a former Major League player? No, it was neither of those things. Iâve never tried seriously to throw a knuckleball, and the zenith of my dadâs athletic career was the high school BOWLING team. Rather, my getting drafted was probably more about luck, and being in the right place at the right time, and maybe about God smiling down on me. But it was also a lot about determination, skill development, being a student of the game and listening to the best teachers I could find in the game of baseball.
I have played amateur ball with probably 500 or more players, some of them great players with far more athletic ability, or âtoolsâ in the pro scout jargon, than I have. And very few if any of them are fortunate enough to still get to play this great game. So how did I get so lucky?
In my case, the luck was at least partially made from the following factors:
I associated with the best teachers and coaches we could find. These coaches knew the game, physical and mental, were great teachers, and gave me great opportunities to play baseball in the most competitive atmosphere possible.
I developed an understanding and appreciation that pitch speed is probably only the 5th most important ingredient to successful pitching (behind general mental outlook, location, movement and what pitch to throw in the count). This is totally contrary to the theory of most scouts at all levels who focus first and foremost on pitch speed.
I believed in myself and was willing to follow my heart even when I was told by many coaches and scouts that I didnât have what it took to succeed at their level.
As a high school senior, throwing about 81 miles per hour top speed, my chances to get into a good college baseball program were pretty bleak. I had played three years of summer and fall travel ball with various upstate South Carolina teams and had a good deal of success as a pitcher against the best competition I could find. And I had three good years of pitching for Daniel High School in my hometown of Clemson, South Carolina. I had also attended several showcases, including a Perfect Games showcase in the dome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But no Division I school was interested in me as a scholarship baseball player. One Division I South Carolina school offered me space as a walk-on, but held out no hope for a scholarship in years 2, 3 and 4 of college (even, they said if I were to become their #1 starting pitcher). Finally in June after I graduated from high school, one of my very good travel ball coaches, Karl Schilling, got me a tryout with Coach Gary Calhoun at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida. After the tryout, but primarily on the recommendation of Coach Schilling, Coach Calhoun offered me a scholarship. Hillsborough CC was a former National Champion JUCO program under Coach Calhoun, and the level of baseball in a Florida JUCO was, and is very, very good. So I enrolled at HCC and took off that August for Florida, just hoping I would get my chances to pitch, and hoping to make good when I got the opportunity..