This is a united team, one for all, inspired by a teammate too ill to attend games.
The upstart Granite Bay High School baseball team has rolled into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I North finals Friday at Sacramento City College with 14 wins in its past 16 games and jersey No. 17 hanging in the dugout.
It belongs to Scott Henrichs.
The junior middle infielder would rather be in uniform instead of hospital gowns from repeat visits. Henrichs continues to undergo tests at Sutter Medical Center in an effort to diagnose pneumonia-like symptoms that have plagued him since the middle of basketball season.
Doctors discovered oversize spots on his lungs and feared it could be cancer. On Wednesday, Henrichs underwent a positron emission tomography, or PET scan, using a tracer to seek disease in the body. He has two anxious families: his immediate one in Placer County and the baseball bunch that competes in his honor.
“It’s all about the uniform, teammates, band of brothers,” Granite Bay assistant coach Darrick Blatnick said. “We all feel awful for Scotty. We’re pulling for him.”
Grizzlies pitcher Darren Nelson speaks fondly of his friend. They also were basketball teammates, and they keep in regular contact, either by hospital visits or text.
“Great guy, great athlete,” Nelson said. “It’s not fair. Scotty’s battling like we knew he would. Having his jersey here helps. This could be his life we’re talking about. It’s so scary, so we’re doing this, winning games, for him.”
Granite Bay coach Pat Esposito said he knew Henrichs was sick early this season. Simple baseball activity had become to difficult for Henrichs, who suffered through coughing fits. Esposito said Henrichs tried to battle through it, not wanting to let his teammates down.
Henrichs had two hits in a 6-4 win over Franklin on March 26 and two hits in a 5-1 victory over Woodcreek on April 24. His last game was April 27 before he was admitted to the hospital May 7.
“The biggest thing to understand in all of this is that life is so precious,” Esposito said. “Scotty’s smiling all the time. We can feel it now.”
Besides his teammates, Henrichs has extra motivation to get out of the hospital. He wants to travel to Omaha, Neb., to catch the College World Series starting June 13 because his father, Jeff, will participate as an umpire.
“That’s our goal,” said Jeff, who will umpire in his fifth CWS. “It’s a great honor to do those games, but I would give all of this back to have him healthy.”
Turning it around
The Grizzlies (19-11) suffered through a six-game losing streak that dropped their record to 5-9. Players talked about their problems and decided to relax and let the game come to them. They have since gone 14-2, including 4-0 in the playoffs with wins over Pleasant Grove (4-1), Jesuit (5-4), Elk Grove (6-0) and Oak Ridge (6-0). Elk Grove and Oak Ridge occupied The Bee’s No. 1 ranking all season. Those teams play Thursday in a losers’ bracket final at Sac City for a right to play Granite Bay on Friday for the title.
“We’re hitting on all cylinders now,” Esposito said. “It’s neat to see. And this team plays to its own beat. They’re so loose; we’ve had players and teams in the past that were too tight, and you can’t play baseball that way. Sometimes, I wonder if we’re too loose, but I don’t want to break their mojo.”
One coach who understands baseball mojo is Jim Barr. Even at 67, the fifth-year Grizzlies assistant coach still casts quite a presence – be it his robust 6-foot-3 frame or warm smile.
Barr was a good pitcher for some very bad Giants teams of the 1970s and early ’80s, once retiring a record 41 consecutive batters. After retirement, Barr and his wife, Susie, settled in Granite Bay in 1987, where they raised daughters Betsy and Emmy. Both excelled in soccer at Granite Bay High and later played professionally.
Barr was the pitching coach at Sacramento State for 16years before landing a relay-throw away from his home at Granite Bay High, where on off-days he can be found manicuring the Grizzlies’ infield – mowing, fertilizing. That diamond is his baby. “The biggest thing to understand in all of this is that life is so precious,” Esposito said. “Scotty’s smiling all the time. We can feel it now.”
“I do what I can to help,” Barr said. “I love working with high school kids. They’re so into learning, getting better.”
Said Esposito: “It’s great having Barr here. What a gem, a great baseball man and a great guy. If he bends over for something, half the team runs over to pick it up for him. They love and respect him that much.”
Nelson, a 6-5 sophomore who already has major-league scouts curious about his potential, said Barr has helped everyone on the roster, be it through words or examples.
“We know he’s a legend,” Nelson said. “He’s really straightforward.”
This season, Nelson is 6-2 with playoff wins over Pleasant Grove and Oak Ridge. Ryan Brown (2-2) and Nick Frank (6-2) also have pitched well.
At the plate, Nelson is batting .358 and Frank .341. Michael Birch has been steady at catcher, and his two-run double gave Granite Bay a 5-0 lead against Oak Ridge on Tuesday to put the Grizzlies into their first D-I North title game since 2005.
The ultimate victory the Grizzlies seek is to watch Henrichs walk out of the hospital.