Justin Henry heads to the pros

This was all about the dream. It usually is at this point.

Justin Henry had some decisions to make about his future recently. There was a lot to consider.

He felt at home and had been team captain for Ole Miss baseball the past two years. He'd been with the program for four, counting a redshirt campaign. And Omaha remains a goal.

His family had just gotten settled into the routine of being able to watch both Henrys play baseball on the same team at the same time and at the same location now that Jordan had arrived in Oxford last summer. That hadn't been the case for years.

But Justin's decision to sign with the Detroit Tigers, who drafted him in the ninth round two weeks ago, was about those dreams and a future in the sport he loves, playing baseball for a living.

Nobody ever knows what next year brings, or even tomorrow. So last week Justin, who could have returned to the Rebels for a fifth year and a fourth year to play and very likely in a captain's role for the third straight year, turned pro after being the 301st player selected overall.

"I'm very excited," said the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from Vicksburg. "To get this opportunity is special. As a kid you always dream about playing baseball all your life. To get the chance to fulfill that dream is something I had to do."

Of course he did. He was ready. It's that way in college baseball, as we've all learned. Three years, maybe four, as in the case of Justin or fourth-year pitcher Will Kline, who redshirted his first year. But that's it and then it's on to the play for pay leagues.

Sometimes it takes time to complete negotiations and deals. In Justin's case, that wasn't the case. A top nine rounds pick for a fourth-year collegian usually means he's gone.

"It really did happen faster than I thought," Justin said. "At the same time, that's probably best. (Detroit) was one of the teams I had heard from, and I was expecting to hear from them (during the draft). I think they liked what they saw in me, and teams always have certain needs and certain type players they think will fit in their organization."

Therefore all players don't hear from all teams. It's why Zack Cozart was drafted by the Reds; Kline by the Devil Rays, and so on. Needs, talent, numbers, positions, philosophy, and more go into the selection of a certain player to a particular organization.

Justin's versatility and willingness helped. A second baseman by trade, he traded in the infield for a spot in the outfield – to help the team, of course. But in the end it probably helped his future as well.

"They said they'd likely see me as a second baseman, but that they could also see me in the outfield," said Justin, who led the Rebels this season in hitting with a .381 batting average and was the team's leader in triples with eight, tying for second in the doubles department with 14. "There are some options there, and I think they liked that."

Justin likes what's he seen and heard from the Tigers organization, which was in the World Series last fall, losing to the Cardinals.

"They've had some success recently," said Justin, who joined Cozart and Logan Power as the only players on the team to start every game this season. "They have a lot of good young players, and seem to really move their players up pretty fast through the system."

Justin begins that trek through the Tigers farm system on Wednesday when he signs in Lakeland, Fla., then heads up to the New York/Penn League, playing for the Oneonta Tigers. He's ready. He's excited. It's what he's been preparing for all his life.

But his heart is tugged a bit the other way, too. He leaves a program he helped to its most success in more than 30 years. His brother will only be a sophomore. His parents will be in the Oxford-Univerity Stadium/Swayze Field stands quite often for at least the next couple of springs.

But there's that future.

"It's been great to be at Ole Miss when the baseball program became a national power again," said Justin, to wed Bonnie Lee, who he has dated since his senior year of high school, on Dec. 8. "It's a great feeling to know I was a part of that, and I wouldn't trade playing here for anything. It's been great playing with Jordan again. It's just my time to go."


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