Prior to Instagram and selfies and constant preening and strutting and choreographed celebrations, athletes simply said into one TV camera after another, “Hi Mom.” It was a fixture during games for decades, but it didn’t really tell you the impact a player’s Mom, and/or Dad, had on the person in uniform. It was never discussed what it meant to be a professional athlete’s parent. But with today’s social media impact, parents, spouses, teammates and foes are often weighing in on themselves, opponents…just about everything.
Other than the player him/herself, who is more emotionally invested than a parent or spouse? We’ve heard interviews with Derek Jeter’s family, but the most of those interviews came after he was an established player. But what about the players that are still working their way to the top. In this case, I spoke with Marci Hensley, mother of the Yankees first round pick, Ty Hensley. I had interviewed Ty shortly after the Yankees selected him in 2012 and now it was time to get another perspective.
BP: At what point did you realize that Ty had a tremendous gift and would have a chance to turn professional?
MH: When did I know he was special in regard to his talent? I probably started realizing it when he was in about 7th grade. By that time he was so far ahead of most kids his age that I was beginning to realize I had to come to terms with it. It was about at that time we had to start making some unpopular and unconventional decisions in order to keep developing his talents.
We joined travel teams that were based 4 hrs from home, traveled to Kansas City for practices , etc. We knew we would have to leave KS before high school for him to really get the ability to showcase his talent so my husband transferred his job to Oklahoma City and I took another position leaving a career I loved to get us to Oklahoma.
People couldn’t believe we moved our lives for baseball, but it was the right thing to do. That’s when it really started to sink in for me, but the day I knew he had the potential to be a first round pick was his senior year in Arizona when every club had the brass there and he threw a complete game, either a one or no hitter. He struck out 14 and touched 98 (mph) most of the game. I never saw anything like it. Not in Carey at Team USA , not at UA (Under Armour) All American…it was that night against a no name team in a little bitty stadium with over 80 scouts in attendance, that Lord willing it would happen.
BP: When the realization set in, how did you feel about it initially since your husband Mike had spent three years in the minor leagues before changing vocations?
MH: That’s when I started getting sick to my stomach. I have a love/hate with the game on a professional level. I know the heartbreak that comes with the dream. I wanted Ty to go to college. Now I knew it may not happen right way and that a decision would have to be made.
There’s a lot of growing up that is done in school; life experiences that we all remember forever and it made me sad that he might miss those. In spite of all that, I was extremely proud and supported whatever decision he would make when it came time to make it. I remember sitting in a Chicago hotel room with Ty and him explaining, better then most businessmen I’ve met, on his rationale on choosing Ole Miss over Stanford. Thinking about that gave me comfort on decisions that were yet to come.
BP: Who were Ty’s biggest influences growing up?
MH: No doubt the biggest influences in Ty’s life were his father and I. He needed both (of us) to draw his skill sets from. From a sports perspective, Ty was extremely lucky to have his father to draw experience from and to develop his skills. He and I share a closeness that is one of the great blessings in my life. We talk about everything. Outside of us, I believe that he would say his Grandpa Bill, who passed away unexpectedly in 2004. They were extremely close . Mike’s dad would drive hours and hours on a regular basis to see Ty play.
BP: What was it like for you as a parent when the Yankees called to let Ty know he was selected by them in the first round? Did you have any early indication that they might be interested?
MH: Well, in regard to that night it was pretty much a blur. I was a nervous wreck. We had bought 11 different hats to represent the possible teams that had told us they may take him with their first pick.
We had visited with the GM from the Rockies (Dan O’Dowd) in Tulsa the week previously. We really anticipated him to go there with the 10th pick, but they went with a position player. The next pick that we knew he would go to, if they selected a pitcher, was the Dodgers. Ty pitched in their stadium less then 24 hours earlier. So as the picks started going, Ty was getting really nervous. Then history took its course and he was selected by the Yankees. He was so happy. Every young man that plays baseball dreams about being a Yankee… Except maybe for Ian Clarkin. Ok that was a joke! Ty and Ian are very good friends and I couldn’t resist. (Clarkin was selected by the Yankees in the first round of the 2013 draft.)
Of all the teams, the Yankees’ interview process was the most intense. Meetings in hotels with upper management, testing by the teams psychologist to see if he could handle the pressure of New York, transcript assessment and in-school visits with teachers and random students. In spite of that, or maybe because of all that, we felt that he actually fit best in the Yankees’ organization. But we truly didn’t think he would get to them. His respect for the game, along with the team history, was a very powerful match .
BP: Ty is determined, focused, and and has a strong work ethic. What life lessons did you as parents instill in him that helped him become the person he is today? What is his most important quality that helped get him this far?
MH: Our family are all hard workers. We believe, that to get what you want, you have to know what it is and make a plan to get it. We don’t blame others for our failures and look within them for life lessons.
Ty’s belief system and his ability to execute on it is what has made him successful in sports and in life. His faith in God and his own ability is unwavering. He writes “Believe in Yourself” under everyone of his baseball caps. Someday we may fully tell the journey that Ty has taken to get back to the mound. Only someone with those qualities could have done it. Right now he is just happy to be doing what he loves so we will leave that alone for now.
BP: That combination of hard work, focus, and dedication undoubtedly helped Ty when he had to undergo Tommy John surgery and the ensuing rehab. How difficult is it for a Mom to see her son injured and know that it is going to take a lot of work to get back to where he was prior to the injury?
MH: Okay, well this question is obviously the toughest for me. Like I said there is more to Ty’s road back then hip surgery (which actually was preventative he never had hip pain or injury per se) or Tommy John. There have been some times in there I had to worry whether he would be physically okay to function as a person let alone as an elite athlete. The mound be damned, I just cared about his health, period. I don’t believe there is anything worse for a parent then seeing your children suffer. The first time I saw him pitch in Staten Island I cried. He might as well been pitching in Yankee Stadium for what he had been through.
BP: One final thing. Ty is 6’4″ and his “big-little”-brother Jake is 6’6″. Did they eat you out of house and home?
MH: Do you really have to ask? We didn’t just have them (to feed), either we usually had some of the football or baseball team to feed as well. A $250 weekly grocery bill was not uncommon in our house.
BP: (Laugh) At least they stopped before they ate the plates too. Thank you Marci for a very insightful interview.