At age 10, Desmond Henry had nowhere to go. His mother had been evicted from their place in Compton, Calif. She had found a cousin’s house with room for just one, but there was no room for one more little boy. The house was packed.
So Henry called his baseball coach. Even though Coach Gerald Pickens was staying at another person’s house, he welcomed in Henry.
“He had nowhere else to go,” Centennial High School coach Gerald Pickens said. “It should be a movie. … You’ve heard that Elton John song, the one where he sings, ‘Mars is no place to raise a kid?’ Well, Compton is no place to raise a kid.
“It can be depressing place. Last year I lost two kids. … Wrong place, wrong time,” Pickens said.
Bullets don’t decipher between the innocent and guilty. So two more young people died.
Located south of downtown Los Angeles, the city of Compton has been notorious for gang violence between the Bloods and Crips. It was the basis for the N.W.A. gangsta rap album, “Straight Outta Compton.”
“Whatever you can get your self into, I mean, if you’re a sports guys that’s what you want to stick to,” Henry said about growing up in Compton. “But the streets can take over if you hang around the wrong people.”
Henry leaned on Pickens for guidance.
“I didn’t have no father in the house,” Henry said. “He basically took me under his wing. He took care of me throughout high school and kept me focused to the point where I am now.”
Pickens was an inner-city coach that cared.
“It’s not just about baseball, it’s about kids,” Pickens said.
Pickens likes to tell the scouts he encounters that he’s better at scouting than they are because he “knows the desires” of his young players. That’s something even big-league scouts can’t always decipher. And what he saw from Henry impressed him.
“I’m a very demanding coach,” Pickens said. “If I say I’m not going to accept any less than your best, I’m not going to accept any less until you meet your goal. The minute you do, I put another one out there and another one. I might have been overbearing at the time, but the love I had for the game wore off on him.”
Drafted by the Texas Rangers in the fourth round in 2011, Henry has struggled for playing time. He only played in 25 games in two years with the Rangers. Traded to the Royals in March 2013 to complete a previous trade, Henry spent two seasons with the Royals’ rookie league team. Released by the Royals in spring, Revolution manager Mark Mason made the somewhat unique decision to go after the 21-year-old. The Atlantic League is filled with former big-league veterans or players with time spent at Triple-A. Henry is something different.
For instance, there’s only one other player on the Revs spring training roster under the age of 25.
“I know he could run, he has speed,” Mason said. “His batting averages were never very good and his strikeout numbers were high, but … basically it was a gut feeling.
“We don’t get a lot of opportunities in the Atlantic League to develop a guy. Most of our guys have already been there. We’re more like tweaking guys here for the most part. But I thought it might be an opportunity to work with a guy with a ton of speed and a lot of tools. We wanted to see if he can fit in here or if he’s over-matched.”
If he can stick, if he can fit in and play the type of small ball — bunting, running, situational hitting — he has high potential. It could be a lot of work, but it could work out for everyone if he’s willing to put in the work. One of those other young, high-potential guys the Revs brought in was reliever Ian Thomas — who left York in 2012 with his first contract in affiliated baseball and made his major league debut with the Braves last season.
“There’s a lot to learn from some of the other guys,” Henry said.