Drew Henson was wandering through the Tampa Yankees clubhouse in his final days of Class A ball last week when an attendant told him he had a request from the boss, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
"What is it?" Henson asked.
The attendant then dragged out three boxes of baseballs that Steinbrenner wanted him to sign.
Henson, his eyes widening, quickly went to work.
"I've had some autograph requests since I've been down here, but nothing quite this big," Henson said.
And that has been a relief for Henson, the University of Michigan dual-sport athlete who has grown accustomed to having a campus and a state follow his every move.
But this summer, the spotlight hasn't exactly found Henson, and he couldn't be happier.
"Coming down here, it was nice," Henson said. "I was able to relax and focus on baseball."
Henson, the Yankees third-round pick in 1998, impressed the club during spring training with his ability; so much so that he was sent to advanced Class A Tampa. Initially, Henson struggled adjusting to the strong pitching and intense heat. He went 0-for-22 in early June.
"At that point, things seemed pretty bad," Henson said. "I was wondering if I could even play this game. Right then, I was wondering whether I should be in Ann Arbor preparing for the football season instead of being down here."
Henson, though, went on a tear. He reached base safely in 24 consecutive games from June 30 to July 28 (.379 average, 5 doubles, 7 home runs, 12 RBI and 2 steals). But just as he was beginning to turn around his season, he had to leave. Henson left Tampa on Sunday to go to Ann Arbor for the start of football practice, which begins Tuesday.
"I've been getting my mind geared up for football and preparing for the whole swarm of attention for a while," Henson said. "But I also wanted to finish strong here. I worked hard to get my average up, and I wanted to have a good, lasting memory knowing that this was my last week here."
TOYING AROUND: Pat Burrell, the Phillies' No. 1 overall pick in 1998 who spent last summer playing in Clearwater, is one of five players featured on a sports-licensed beanie character toys.
In June, Team Best released a limited series of 10,000 minor league Rookie Bammers that were distributed in a special "mini-box" series of trading cards.
The other players featured are J.D. Drew (St. Louis), Lance Berkman (Houston), Rich Ankiel (St. Louis) and Ryan Anderson (Seattle).
_ BOB PUTNAM