The only thing bigger than Dave Henderson’s smile was his heart

Dec 27, 2015, 12:10 PM | Updated: Jan 15, 2016, 10:13 am
Dave Henderson spent time as an announcer, doing charitable work and organizing fantasy camps. (AP)...
Dave Henderson spent time as an announcer, doing charitable work and organizing fantasy camps. (AP)

The only thing bigger than Dave Henderson’s smile was his heart. Early this morning that heart gave out and we have lost another Dave. Dave Henderson is gone at the young age of 57.

A lot will be written about Hendu the baseball player – and it should be, he had a marvelous career – but the Hendu I got to know was so much more. Yes, he was that larger than life figure, huge smile, loud voice, right about everything in a friendly, matter-of-fact way (of course). The bravado was always positive, however. Hendu was a guy who was always up and wanted everyone around him to be up as well. Why shouldn’t they be? Especially if they worked in baseball.

Hendu was incredibly gracious with the fans. He felt it was his job to put a smile on each and every one of their faces. Young, old, the appreciation was mutual. He ran a fantasy camp where he went out of his way to make sure each participant, young or old got not just the big-league experience, but the Hendu big-league experience. His message to the campers? Have fun. Life’s too short to be too serious about this. Get out on the field and have fun like he did.

For years I got to see Hendu at least once a homestand. He would come into the booth, make sure everyone had a smile on their faces, tell us his latest, listen to our latest and then say that it was time to take his son Chase to the seats. What many people didn’t know about Hendu was that he had a severely disabled son he was completely devoted to. Diagnosed with Angelman’s syndrome in 1987, Chase required around-the-clock care and Hendu was there for him. He wouldn’t leave him at home when he had business at the ballpark. No, Chase would come too, and his father would wheel him around the ballpark so he could take in the sights and sounds of the experience. He was a phenomenal father.

Hendu was also there for kids in need in the community. One of his greatest joys was playing “Santa Hendu” each Christmas, as one of the founders of Rick’s Toys For Kids, an organization he and Rick Rizzs started in 1995 to provide Christmas presents for needy children in the area. That year Dave saw a report about the 8,000 homeless men and women in King County and asked, “Where are the kids?” With the help of some Mariners friends they got together and bought over 300 toys that year for kids in need. Since then they have raised over $2.5 million and bought over 100,000 toys for the area’s disadvantaged children.

While I always saw Hendu as so much more than a ballplayer, that part should not be missed. The first player ever drafted by the Mariners, Hendu also left his mark on the A’s and Red Sox organizations. I will never forget the trip he took to Boston with us a few years ago and the appreciation the fans there showed for him. From police officers on the street to vendors in the ballpark to current players down on the field, it was exciting to see just how beloved he was there for his 1986 postseason heroics.

He loved every minute of that experience, and why wouldn’t he? It was life. I’m not sure I have ever known a person who loved and enjoyed life as much as he did. You would feel the appreciation for life when he walked into a room, and if you didn’t he would gently smack you upside the head with it, for you were in Hendu’s world when he was around. Now he is not and this is a tremendous loss for his family – sons Chase and Trent and wife Nancy – as well as friends and baseball. He was one of the good guys. In my book, one of the absolute best.

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The only thing bigger than Dave Henderson’s smile was his heart