In his second season in professional baseball, Helena Brewers catcher Payton Henry is quickly proving that the future for the Brewers organization is truly a bright one as he is making the baseball diamond his realm.
Payton Henry – Introduction
Former New York Yankees Manager Bob Lemon once quipped that “Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.” The sport was always intended to be a game, but the business side has changed it forever. Now, most of the players who are truly good at the sport are driven more by the dollar signs than by their passion to simply go out and play baseball.
That may be the case for many, but it is clearly not so for Helena Brewers catcher Payton Henry. If there was ever a young man who understands what the game is truly supposed to be about, it is Payton, as he is bringing his passion and love for baseball to the field each night, while also establishing himself as one of the best young players in the Milwaukee Brewers system. Another one of the amazing members of the 2016 and 2017 draft classes who have the organization thinking that they are the new Houston Astros.
Prophetically Named for Success
We don’t often think this way, but sometimes there is a lot more to a name than simply something that the parents decided to call their son or daughter. In the Bible, 1 Samuel tells the story of a man named Nabal who insulted King David, something that could have earned him death. His wife profusely apologized to the King, asking for mercy because her husband was a fool. Oddly enough, Nabal actually means fool, which tells you a lot about what kind of parents he had.
We don’t think of this very often in our present society, but sometimes there are parents who have an inclination of how special their son or daughter may be. This must have been the case for Darrin and Joy Henry when they decided to name their son Payton.
Payton Henry, which literally means “Noble Estate Ruler,” had loved the game of baseball since his father introduced him to the sport. He came from a family that had a lot of success in sports, as his dad had starred for Pleasant Grove when he was in high school, and his grandfather, Darold, was not only a Gold Gloves boxing champ and star wrestler in high school, but is one of the most respected wrestling coaches in Utah sports history.
Payton starred in both of these sports as well as on the gridiron, but he simply found that baseball was something he enjoyed a bit more.
“I enjoyed playing it more to be honest. It wasn’t that there really was a difference. I love wrestling and football too, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed baseball.”
While loving to play baseball, it was not always smiles and pats on the back. Payton originally started out as a second baseman, but was moved to catcher, a change he did not really embrace at first.
“I was on a travel league baseball team when I was a kid and they started me out at second base because I was just a little guy. I could field the ball, it was just my coach was like that you’re just not going to be a second baseman, you’re going to be a catcher. So, he put me into the gear that day and made me block balls and I cried the whole day, but it paid off,” he explains with a laugh.
A Pleasant Way to Build a Resume
Following in the footsteps of his dad and grandfather, Payton Henry went to Pleasant Grove High School (UT), where Darrin Henry was the varsity baseball coach. He played both pitcher and catcher for the Vikings and put up outstanding numbers all three seasons he was on the varsity team.
In his sophomore season, 2013-14, Payton appeared in 30-games, hitting .414 with 5-homers and 32-runs driven in. He also made 7-appearances on the mound, posting a 1-0 record with 4-saves and a 0.00 ERA. Clearly, he was proving that his parents naming skills were spot on as he was ruling the baseball diamond, however, this was only a shadow of good things to come.
A year later he helped the Vikings to the Utah Class 5A Baseball Championship, where he tossed the final two-innings in relief to secure the 6-2 victory over Bingham and give his school their first title. Overall, Payton appeared in 9-games as a pitcher, saving 5 and posting a miniscule 0.62 ERA. His performance at the plate matured as well, as the then-junior hit .527 with 9-home runs and 46-RBI in just 30-games. It was such an impressive season that he was named to the ABCA All-American First Team and was the Gatorade Utah Player of the Year.
A season later he appeared in 23-games, hitting .519 with 7-homers and 31-runs driven in. On the mound, he made 7-appearances, going 2-0 with 2-saves. Once again, Payton was the Utah Gatorade Player of the Year and was named to the Louisville Slugger First Team.
It was an incredible culmination to a high school career that saw Payton go 4-1 with 11-saves and a 1.63 ERA in 83-appearances, as well as hit .479 with 21-home runs and 109-RBI in 83-games. He also made just 7-errors in his career, leaving Pleasant Grove with a .987 fielding percentage.
Percolating on His Future
When a player puts up those kinds of numbers he is going to draw a lot of attention, and that proved to be the case for Payton Henry as well. His success was making him think that one day he could be fulfilling his dream of being a professional baseball player.
“I really thought I had a shot to play professionally my senior year when some of the scouts started coming around and I kind of figured out that I might have a shot here. It was kind of a cool experience. There were scouts coming to my games most every game I played. I had an idea but I didn’t know for sure.”
The professional avenue was not the only path he could follow. Several universities were interested as well, and Payton signed to attend Brigham Young University. However, around graduation time, his name was called during the 2016 MLB draft and his dream of becoming a professional ballplayer was about to become reality.
“I was sitting in my living room with some friends and stuff, just kind of hanging out hoping my name would be called. I was watching on the draft tracker. It was nerve-racking but also awesome at the same time.”
This was truly a moment of great excitement for the then 18-year-old. Clearly a moment that required a truly kid like response.
“When my name was called I actually sprinted around the block because I was so excited. I gave all my friends hugs and my family hugs and I just took off and started screaming. Everybody started walking out wondering what the heck was going on.”
Fulfilling a Dream for Payton Henry
In the sixth round of the 2016 MLB draft, Payton Henry was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers. It was not only the fulfillment he had envisioned of one day dominating on the baseball diamond, but the catcher had a great deal of respect for the Brewers organization as well, and has found that this respect has only grown.
“I had talked to the Brewers scout quite a bit and he is an awesome guy. Jeff Scholzen and I had gone out to the pre-draft workout and I really liked it out there. So, I was really pleased when I was drafted by them. Everybody here is awesome. It’s hard to come by a bad person here. Everybody is awesome to work with. We have good teammates, they have an unbelievable front-office in the program, the organization is on the rise right now as you can see with the Big League team, so it’s a great place to be.”
The Brewers also gave him the chance to continue to catch. While he could have easily been drafted as a pitcher as well, hitting is what he truly wanted to do.
“I like catching. I like hitting too much to want to pitch.”
The Whirlwind Start to His Career
In June of 2016, Payton Henry was graduating from Pleasant Grove High School. This is one of the most exciting times for a young man as he now moves on to a life of greater independence, but first gets to enjoy a summer with friends and family before heading off to college. That was not to be the case for the graduate. His world was about to move at warp speed.
“Just leaving home was really crazy. I graduated high school and seven days later I was on a plane to Milwaukee to sign and then I was on a plane to Arizona to play. I had to say my quick goodbyes and get out of there and it was all surreal. It just didn’t seem real for a while because everything happened so fast.”
Payton was sent to the Arizona League (Rookie Ball) where he appeared in 24-games, hitting .256 with 17-runs driven in and 15-runs scored. It was a solid start to his career, but he realized that he the level of talent required him to step up his game.
“This is professional baseball. Everybody’s good here; everybody’s a professional. It’s just different in that sense. The game speeds up and everybody is good. It definitely took a little bit to get adjusted to the game speed. To get adjusted to different things, like pitching. Baseball is always a game of adjustments, so I just figured I was going to have to make those adjustments anyway and so I am just trying to do the best I can to stay consistent.”
The Brewers organization had seen plenty enough, and moved Payton Henry to the Low-A Helena Brewers for the 2017 season. He had shown a solid bat as well as played well defensively in rookie ball, and so a new chapter was about to begin.
In 38-games this season, Payton has shown some real pop. He is hitting .241 with 7-homers and 24-RBI. The Brewers catcher has also been a lot more patient at the plate, walking 23 times to post a .359 on-base percentage.
Included in his brief career in Helena are four three-hit games and, on July 29, he fell just single short of hitting for the cycle, going 3-5 with 2-runs and 3-RBI. He set a career high for RBI in a game (4) on July 12 against Idaho Falls, and two days earlier he was 2-2 with 3-runs and 3-walks against Missoula. As the season has gone along he has clearly gotten a lot more comfortable at the plate.
“Last season was a learning experience for me, and I this year is too. I have to make adjustments all the time because they are adjusting to me. It’s part of the game that you really have to learn quickly if you are going to be a success.”
Focused on the Priority
While Payton Henry is maturing as a hitter, the one area where he takes special pride is in how he handles his catching duties. While providing offensive production is important, the truth is that a catcher’s primary responsibility is to handle the pitching staff. It is the part of the game where Payton is ruling with great success.
“You just got to do the right things for them (the pitchers). If he throws balls in the dirt, you got a block it. You got to make the right pitch calls and do things like that to where they know when you put that pitch sign down that they know that they can throw that in this situation and they know they’re going to get an out. Just feeding off of each other’s confidence is the biggest part.”
Former St. Paul Saints catcher Vinny DiFazio once explained that being a catcher was 40 percent catching and 60 percent psychologist. You not only have to worry about blocking pitches and calling a good game, but also have to manage the personalities and eccentricities of each pitcher.
“Baseball is such a mental game. You learn quickly that you got to get your mind right before you play. That’s a big part with the pitchers as well. I make sure I have a good relationship with them so that they know that they can trust me, trust the calls, trust everything like that. Sometimes the pressures on. Different things happen and you just got to try your best to keep your composure and to try your best to help him to keep his composure. They do a great job of it. I think I feed more off of their confidence than they do off of mine. Most importantly, I just remind them let’s just go back to having fun like we did when we were eight years old.”
Because Fun Is What It Is All About
There is a lot of pressure to succeed in professional baseball. Literally millions of dollars are at stake with each and every pitch, and that can take a lot of the fun out of the game. Not for Payton Henry, however. He gets that there will be hard times in the sport, periods where things are not going his way at all, yet he even approaches those troubles with the wisdom that can only come from youth.
“When you’re struggling you’re trying everything from superstition, like jumping in the shower in your jersey, to just hitting extra on the tee. Different guys do different things and it’s just a matter of realizing that you’re not going to stay in a slump forever. You just got to know that you’re going to get out of it and you got to have the right attitude and confidence that you know that your good enough to get out of this.”
He may seem naïve about the mental approach of the game, but no one should be mistaken. Payton Henry is as astute about what it takes to be successful in the game and successful in life in general as any player you will meet, and he gives credit for that to the two most important men in his life.
“My father and my grandfather are two great people that I aspire to be like. They are just stand up guys and they’ve done more than I can ever imagine for me to help me get to the point where I am.”
In fact, Darrin Henry is still providing his coaching insights for his son.
“He’s either giving me a call or I’m giving him a call just to give him the rundown of what went down, what went on in the game. It’s definitely fun to talk with him. He has a lot of baseball knowledge, so it’s a lot of fun to talk to him and get feedback from him; him teaching me new things and me teaching him new things. It’s a lot of fun.”
Working His Way Toward the Supreme Realm
While focused on learning so that he can have greater success, for Payton Henry baseball is still the game he simply wants to enjoy playing. He is not looking for huge accolades, statues built in his honor, or streets named after him. Instead, the young man just wants to have fun, just like when he was eight.
He is having fun, but that has a lot do with the fact that baseball is his sanctuary, his domain. The place where Payton Henry is more than just a name, but is a representation of what he intends to do each time he takes the field. With his passion for the game, his mental approach and dedication, and the fact that he simply loves to play baseball, it would not be surprising to see Payton Henry playing Major League baseball one day. It would truly be his final domain to rule.
By Robert Pannier
Member of IBWAA