02/15/2017 6:57 AM
Over the past few seasons, the Walla Walla Sweets have developed a strong relationship with Cal baseball. That funnel with the Bears will continue in 2017, as the Sweets bolstered infield depth by adding a pair from Berkeley. Freshman Tommy Henderson and sophomore Ripken Reyes of the University of California-Berkeley will join Walla Walla this summer. For both players, it will be their first go-round in the West Coast League.
Henderson comes to the Sweets from Walnut Creek, CA. He was a standout at Alcanes HS in nearby Lafayette where he batted .365 as a senior. Henderson led Alcanes to a 26-2 record and a CIF-North Coast Section Division III title his senior year. For his effort, he was named MVP of the Diablo Foothills League. He also played three years of varsity football. Henderson is big for an infielder (6’0”, 200 lbs) but his size and strength allow him to wallop the baseball when he barrels it up. During Henderson’s senior season, 17 of his 27 hits went for extra bases.
“I will be spending most of my time at third base and first base [at Cal],” Henderson said. “I also have experience in the corner outfield. For Walla Walla, I will play wherever they need me to win.”
Although Henderson is new to the college game, his transition to Division I baseball has gone smoothly so far. He hopes to make an impact on the field and contribute to a third straight winning season for the Bears. “I expect to develop the mental part of my game as well as the physical side,” he said. I’ve already learned a tremendous amount from not only my coaches, but from the upperclassmen as well.”
One of those upperclassmen who has helped Henderson adjust to college ball is sophomore second baseman Ripken Reyes. The lefty swinger hails from St. Mary’s HS in Stockton, CA where his career .314 batting average earned him three all-league selections, including league MVP his junior year. His freshman season at Cal, Reyes appeared in 16 games, making two starts. He hit .286 against Pac-12 competition in seven games played.
“Being a freshman is tough. You don’t know what to expect and sometimes, you don’t even know where to stand!” said Reyes. However, being uncomfortable at times during his first collegiate season has molded Reyes into the type of self-reflective veteran leader that is so vital to a young team like this year’s Sweets.
“I plan on helping the younger guys by setting the right example on and off the field,” he said. “By playing the game the right way, hustling on the field, playing hard and being an encouraging leader, I think all those things are positives. Off the field, it’s really important to me that we have a positive impact on the Sweets fans and everybody watching.”
“Something I took away from my freshman season at Cal [is] not only what it takes to be a great baseball player but also a great person. Bring a positive and passionate attitude to the field every single day and the rest will take care of itself,” Reyes said.
Reyes will likely see the bulk of his playing time in the middle infield, at both second base and shortstop for Walla Walla this summer. He is the kind of player that is takes pride in doing the little things.
“My biggest strength as a baseball player is just being consistent every day. As a hitter, I can spray [the ball to all areas of] the field, bunt, slash, hit and run, all those things are important to me. As a fielder, I take pride in being quick to my left or right and turning the double play. I’m going to play with my hair on fire, be a relentless competitor and a great teammate,” he said.
Finally, in case fans were wondering, Reyes is indeed named after Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr.
“My parents are huge baseball fans and they wanted to have a son who would exhibit the same characteristics as Cal Ripken; somebody with integrity, toughness, commitment, and great character. It’s something I strive to be every single day,” said Reyes, who was born roughly a year and a half after Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s longstanding record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game.
However, Ripken isn’t the only Reyes brother with an esteemed name. His 10-year-old brother was named after a different all-star infielder.
“My little brother [Rolen Reyes] is named after [Phillies, Reds, and] Cardinals great [third baseman] Scott Rolen, We are both really thankful for our names!” boasted Reyes.