He lobbied from the hospital, an IV pumping fluids into his body to combat dehydration, the result of a flu bug and, doctors later told him, pneumonia.
He wanted to pitch. No matter how sick he felt. No matter what anyone tried to tell him.
And, so, there was Tommy Henry on the mound Sunday in Los Angeles, fighting off fever and dehydration and the UCLA Bruins, desperate to give his Michigan Wolverine teammates enough innings to propel them to the College World Series.
“Gutsiest I’ve seen in (all) my years of coaching,” said U-M’s baseball coach Erik Bakich. “(To) put how he feels to the side like he did? (To) put the team on his back? If he doesn’t do that, we don’t win.”
Not that Bakich needed to single out the junior lefty from Portage Northern High School. He could point his finger up and down his dugout and land on a player who’s made a play during this improbable run to the World Series — the school’s first since 1984.
That’s how it is when a team earns an at-large bid from the Midwest and claws its way past higher-ranked teams, teams from warm-weather climates that so often dominate college baseball.
As Henry said, no one expected U-M to knock off UCLA, the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 seed. Of course not. Why would they?
The Wolverines haven’t been to Omaha, Neb., — site of the World Series — in three decades. A Big Ten school hasn’t been there in six years.
You should know this by now:
— Michigan Baseball (@umichbaseball) June 7, 2019
And while Bakich has slowly built the program during his seven-year tenure in Ann Arbor — this is his third NCAA tournament appearance — even he’d admit this run came from a place few outside his clubhouse could see.
Mostly because the view outside the clubhouse at Ray Fisher Stadium is a reminder of what gets the attention on U-M’s campus. Stand on the field and it’s easy to spot Michigan Stadium, Crisler Center, Schembechler Hall, even Alumni Field, where Carol Hutchins oversees one of the best softball programs in the country.
U-M’s a football school. Then a basketball school. Then a hockey or softball school. Then a swimming and diving and gymnastics school. Then a field hockey school.
Bakich sees no reason why that can’t change.
“Thirty-five years doesn’t have to pass before you do this again,” he said.
And as much as he likes to use “grit” and “toughness” to describe this team — it needed a two-out, two-strike, two-run double in the bottom of the ninth to knock off Illinois in the Big Ten tournament to secure an at-large NCAA bid — he’s got talent on this roster, too.
Two years ago, he landed a top-10 recruiting class. Last week, three of his players were selected in the first three rounds of the MLB draft, including Henry and Big Ten player of the year, Jordan Brewer.
Brewer first arrived in Ann Arbor as a football recruit. He was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on; he played receiver. Injuries steered him to baseball, though, and he went to Lincoln Trail Community College in Robinson, Ill., to hone his game.
The experience, he said, “really taught me how to play baseball.”
The junior outfielder made his debut at U-M in February. All he’s done since he arrived is hit. And track down screamers in the gaps. And knock in home runs — he’s got 12.
“I’m headed to Omaha,” he said, standing in the third-base side foul-territory at Ray Fisher Stadium, the sun pouring onto his giddy face. “I keep having to pinch myself.”
The entire team feels the same way. They believe it. Yet they can’t. Not really.
Not the way the U-M community has reached out to them, not the unending texts of congratulations, not the media response. Bakich said he’d never seen so many cameras at Ray Fisher as he did Tuesday afternoon.
“Exciting,” he said.
For their presence is a reminder of what they accomplished in Los Angeles on Sunday, and of where they are headed later this week.
They aren’t used to this. Which isn’t the worst way to enter the College World Series, either. They feel little pressure. And if they discovered anything about themselves this season, it’s that play best when they are loose.
That’s why U-M’s pitching coach, Chris Fetter, encourages mediation among his pitchers. No team sport requires more mental dexterity. As Henry said, the time between the action can be interminable. You’ve got to still that mind.
And relax. And smile. And laugh in the dugout.
“That’s when we are at our best,” said Bakich.
That and fighting through sickness and whatever else to take the mound or a position on the field. To step to the plate when the season on the line and make a swing that could change the direction of a program.
To change a legacy.
That’s what this College World Series berth has done. That’s what it is doing.
Henry slipped from his hospital bed to the baseball field at UCLA and tossed seven innings on fortitude. He gave his team a chance.
As he spoke to reporters back in Ann Arbor on Tuesday afternoon, his eyes were puffy, his cheeks looked pale.
“Don’t get too close,” he joked.
Still, he was feeling better.
How could he not?
This article is written by Shawn Windsor from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.