CORVALLIS — Somewhere, Brett Henry likely has an old MVP trophy collecting dust from a 2003 Class A American Legion baseball performance that helped the Bitterroot Red Sox capture a state title.
In less than a week, Henry might have something else to add to the cabinet — a World Series ring.
Henry, a Corvallis High School graduate, has gone from a high school ballplayer on Hamilton's Vester Wilson Field to a Major League Baseball assistant coach with the Washington Nationals over the last 16 years. Kids will often dream of making it to the big leagues as a player — Henry was no exception — but the boy from the Bitterroot is now one of the men tasked with keeping the 2019 National League Champions in peak condition.
Meaning Henry has a seat in the dugout for this year's Fall Classic.
"Going back, you always dream of getting to the highest level. I don’t think anybody as a young boy doesn’t think about that," said Henry, who is Washington's assistant strength and conditioning coach. "But to actually have it come true and still be involved in the game as intricately as I am, it’s amazing, it’s a blessing and it’s been a lot of fun."
It has also meant a ton of work. Never mind, for just a second, that the Nationals went from the second worst team in the National League on May 23 (19-31 overall) to NL champs. Try making it to the MLB from Corvallis, Montana — current population: 976.
For perspective, Game 1 of the World Series in Houston, where the Nationals topped the Astros, 5-4, had 43,339 in attendance, not including players and coaches. One of them was Henry.
"Growing up, you dream of a World Series opportunity one day, but do you ever think it’s going to become a reality? Probably not. But for me it was able to work out," He said. "And you can really come from anywhere. Corvallis, Montana, is a great spot, but it’s a really, really small spot in comparison to the world. For somebody to come out of there and get to where I’m at, I feel very blessed and fortunate.
"But for anybody else, too, you can do whatever you want to do, there’s nothing holding you back."
Henry's road to the show was born out of his love for baseball. He was a good ballplayer by most standards. He helped lead the Red Sox to a 2003 state title, particularly memorable because it came against the valley rival Bitterroot Bucs. Henry hit .500 in the state tournament, slugged four home runs and threw a shutout during the tourney.
He worked his prep career into a a college one, where Henry played baseball for Spokane Falls Community College. While the juco in eastern Washington has had a history of churning out professional baseball players, Henry wouldn't be one.
In part, though, he does have his time at Spokane to thank for his eventual landing in the Washington out East.
"...When I got to college it was like, how can I stay involved in the game that I loved? I kind of went down the exercise science, sports science route in terms of education," said Henry, who went on to study at Washington State, where he was a student assistant strength and conditioning coach before getting his masters at California University of Pennsylvania. "I got my degree in that and just kind of put myself out there to a whole bunch of teams and was fortunate to get an opportunity with the Nationals."
He has worked his way up through the Nationals organization from 2010 where he started with short-season A Vermont (For Western Montanans, think Missoula Osprey level). He made stops in AA Harrisburg, Single-A Potomac and AAA Syracuse before getting the call to the Nationals in 2016.
But how are strength and conditioning coaches evaluated? How does an assistant coach advance from the minors to the big leagues?
"I always had that goal there, but you also know that a coach is just like a player. A lot of people are involved in the minor leagues and not everybody makes it (to the big leagues). I was fortunate enough to get a few breaks, work my butt off and was able to get in the right spot at the right time," Henry said. "Being with an organization for a long time I think has helped me out, too.
"Just kind of getting to know everybody involved in the organization and being able to be here for the last four years at the major league level has just been amazing."
Everybody in the organization are guys like three-time Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, who earned a win in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday. Guys like Trea Turner, who led off the World Series with a base hit. Guys like Howie Kendrick, a veteran who drilled the decisive grand slam home run in extra innings to upset the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. Henry has been there for all of that.
In a way, he's one of those guys.
But those guys are people too. Henry was quick to point that out.
"...We all have different backgrounds, so they’re just like me," Henry said. "...You’re working with them and you’re trying to show them how to be the best version of themselves from a player standpoint. If you’re in any way starstruck about that, that’s not going to go over very well for you."
And Henry is all about making the players better. It's not only his job, it's his passion.
"That’s what drives me, seeing the success and the smiles on these guys' faces," he said. "I mean, yeah, they’re professionals, they get paid a ton of money, but at the end of the day they want to win and they’re trying to compete just as hard as anybody else and they want to be successful and seeing the success is really what drives me."
It has to, because the professional baseball schedule is grueling. There's 162 games a year, not including postseason and spring training. "Off" days typically mean cross-country travel and living out of a hotel room for weeks on end. A coach's schedule — particularly the strength and conditioning coach — is seven days a week, starting with 6 a.m. workouts and maybe not finishing until the 12th frame of an extra-inning game, well past midnight.
It's hard work. But then again, it takes hard work to reach the pinnacle of your profession.
And while Henry plays a behind-the-scenes role with the Washington Nationals and their quest for their organization's first-ever World Series title, there's no small part on baseball's biggest stage.
Even for someone who hails from Small Town, Montana.
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