Ramon Henderson. Ok, not one of those kinds of celebrities. But he is a known person. Here's his story.
This was my dad's life since before I was born. Always in the Phillies baseball orginization. In 1997 he got called up to be a major league coach for the Philadelphia Phillies. Pretty awesome, right? He had it all. A job most people could only dream of having. He even pitched to Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard in the '05 & '06 home run derby. They were back to back champs.
But just because you have everything doesn't mean everything is ok.
This is his story.
My sister with my dad's 2008 World Series Ring
"All the credit goes to Ramon," Howard said. "He puts the ball right in there and makes it easy to get in a groove."
"Henderson was on the mound last year when Phils outfielder Bobby Abreu won the Home Run Derby in Detroit."
WYOMISSING, Pa. -- At least once a week, alone in his sparsely furnished apartment, he flips on the high-definition television and the well-worn DVD begins to play. He watches raptly, as if seeing it all for the first time, even though he knows the script so well he recites it from memory.
There on the big screen is Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu at the 2005 All-Star Home Run Derby. There he is knocking 24 baseballs over the fence at Detroit's Comerica Park in the first round, a record at the time. Winning with 41 homers in all, another record. The announcers oohing and aahing. Teammate Jimmy Rollins making a supportive cameo appearance. An interview with Abreu and a replay of one shot that traveled an estimated 517 feet. The crowd chanting, "Bobby! Bobby!"
"It still gives me goosebumps," Ramon Henderson said. "I watch it because it gives me something to look forward to. It brings me happiness."
The 48-year-old onetime Phillies bullpen coach takes happiness wherever he can find it these days. He was there that magical day seven years ago. There? He was way more than just there. He was in uniform, the pitcher who grooved the baseballs that Abreu bashed so hard and so far. And the next year, at the All-Star Game at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, he did it again. Ryan Howard won with Henderson on the mound.
As a result, he became a minor celebrity. "People didn't know who I was until that happened. I used to stop at red lights and people would honk. 'Hey, Ramon. Good job!' Before that they didn't know who I was because I was hiding all the time in the bullpen. It was quite a new experience," he said with a nostalgic smile.
His future seemed bright. He was liked and respected in the organization. It was expected that sometime in the next few years he'd be promoted to a more prominent role, maybe third-base or bench coach.
Then one day during the 2008 season, he disappeared from public view. Only months later would it come out publicly that he had gone into rehab for alcohol-related issues.
Even then he never could have envisioned that he would spend 14 months in prison, being released only this February. That he'd lose his job and his family. That he wouldn't be able to attend his mother's funeral in the Dominican Republic because he'd be behind bars. That his driver's license would have been revoked, leaving him dependent on the kindness of others. That his routine would include AA meetings, visits to his probation officer and random urine tests.
Or that he would watch that DVD over and over and over to remind himself of everything that's been taken away from him, and of what he's hoping to recapture. Even now, he can't understand how he could allow his taste for Johnnie Walker Black to take over his life so completely.
"Baseball didn't become a priority for me. The bottle did. It was my best friend. It was what I loved the most," he said. "I couldn't believe it. It had been my dream to be a professional baseball player. To get to the big leagues [as a coach] and then all of a sudden to be careless about it? It's something very hard for me to swallow right now.
"My losses have been priceless. I can only tell you that people can't understand it unless they were in my shoes. The alcohol took what I loved to do the most, which is baseball, what I've done all my life. It destroyed my marriage. And because of my habits, I wasn't able to say goodbye one last time to my mother, who got killed by a car. Because I was incarcerated," he said without a hint of self-pity.
He blames himself. Nobody else.
"I don't regret my past. I'm grateful that nothing worse happened to me. There are people out there who are worse off than me and haven't been caught. I'm grateful that I didn't kill anybody or kill myself. I'm thankful for that," he said.
"I only regret what I could have become."
And yet, Henderson remains hopeful. He's healthy. He's still relatively young. He hasn't had a drink for over a year-and-a-half. He has nearly three decades of professional baseball experience. So he asks for only one more chance, one last opportunity to finally become what he thought he would already be by now.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes. If I have to start from way below, that's what I've got to do. All I'm looking for is for somebody to give me a chance. I believe I've got a lot to offer. I have a lot of desire and energy to help any organization in any way I can," he said. "I think it's going to be some kind of story if somebody gives me a second chance. I think I'm going to be way better this time around. Because I have the motivation to prove to myself and prove to others that I'm [sober] and that I'm capable of doing even a better job."
Henderson missed the Phillies' World Series championship and the parade down Broad Street, but he still had a job. He returned as a coach for the Class A Clearwater Threshers in 2009. That lasted until he showed up tipsy at the ballpark one day. He wasn't even allowed to put on a uniform and was sent back to rehab.
The Phillies went back to the World Series that season, this time losing to the Yankees. At home, Henderson wondered about his future. Then, one day, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and senior adviser Pat Gillick called and asked if they could come to see him. They arrived the next day and told him how much they appreciated the years he had given the organization. They told him how much they hoped he would get himself back on track. And in so many words, they gently told him he was fired.
"I really appreciated those two guys taking their time to come out and tell me face to face. They told me they felt like they gave me enough chances and, right now, that I wasn't responding and really needed some time to get myself right. And I agreed," he said.
Things didn't get better for Henderson right away, though. In fact, they got worse. He was arrested for driving under the influence twice in quick succession. His marriage was on the rocks. He was living in a halfway house and had been sober for 10 months when, on Christmas Eve in 2010, he drove to deliver presents to his five children. He passed a bar. He thought he could handle one drink. He had several and ended up in a fender-bender.
A few days later, wracked with guilt, he turned himself in to his probation officer. The man was sympathetic but said he had no choice but to send him to jail, for his own safety and the safety of others.
Berks County Prison was an ordeal. "We were locked in 21 hours out of 24. Living in a bathroom, because that's exactly what it was. A bathroom with bunk beds, a toilet and a sink. An 8-by-10-foot bathroom. That's where I stayed for 14 months," he said. "There were two people in the cell. One month I spent by myself, and that's no fun, either, because you have nobody to talk to. It was difficult."
In that time he had a dozen different cellmates. "That's very difficult. Sometimes we got along. Sometimes we didn't," he said. "I consider myself a very patient and easy-to-get-along-with type of guy. And I almost got into two fights. It's hard. I mean, not only did I have to adjust to him, he had to adjust to me. Two different personalities and then living in an 8-by-10 bathroom. We're all there. Miserable. Angry. Bitter. You name it. It's very easy to get agitated. And that's why you see a lot of fights."
That, maybe, is why he remains upbeat despite all he's been through. No matter what hardships he's enduring, it's better than where he's been. He's thankful to the Phillies for all they did to try to help him, even having Employee Assistance Professional Dickie Noles work with him after he was no longer employed by the team. He even finds a silver lining in being jailed when his mother was killed, saying he doesn't know what he might have done had he been free when he got the terrible news.
He's hung a sign on the wall of his dinette. "Everything Happens For A Reason," it says.
"I'm just so grateful. God put me into that place to keep me safe," he said. "He put me into a safe place to keep me alive. I could have killed somebody or I could have killed myself. I just don't know what would have happened if I was outside.
"[The Phillies] went out of their way to try to help me. They gave me every chance and every opportunity. I put a lot of people in a bad position."
He understands that this will be a lifelong battle. "I say, 'I haven't had a drink today.' And I'm going to try to keep it that way tomorrow. I'm trying to live one day at a time. Because it didn't work the other way, thinking too far ahead," he said.
There are long, empty hours to fill. He understands the danger. He has the MLB package and he watches up to three games a day. He spends a lot of time on the computer. He's a volunteer baseball coach at Daniel Boone High School in Amity Township. Above all, he strives to keep looking forward, believing that better days really are ahead.
"I have a lot of dead time right now, and I want to create a schedule so I don't get bored. I don't want to go back to my old habits. I want to keep my mind busy. The less I think about my past, the better off I'm going to be," he said.
On the television, Abreu hits another home run.
"Ramon Henderson deserves a raise!" shouts announcer Chris Berman.
"I deserve a raise!" Henderson repeats, happily.
Right now, of course, he's not really thinking about that. He's only thinking about getting a chance. Just one more chance.
Written by: Paul Hagen
He has always been a drinker. It's a Dominican thing. Always drinking. Well that's what we thought anyway.
It all went down hill when one of his good friends John Vukovich passed away. His drinking got worse. He would drink a whole bottle of whiskey a day. We would find them in the trash can, under the bed and under the seat in his car. This was the biggest problem. He was drinking and driving. He thought he was untouchable. In 2007 he was on his way to the Phillies stadium for work driving his work car. One of my ex-boyfriends called me and said "your dad just crashed his car and is driving it home". I call my dad and he makes up some excuse about how he doesn't want to drive that car, he wants to drive HIS car. Gives no reason .. doesn't mention that he got into an accident but just that he needed to drive his other car. It was to the point where he got good at hiding it. He got very good at making us believe him. That he was fine. The day of my graduation in June of 2007 my mom calls me and said my dad has been drinking. I go home, things blow up, he's drunk and I was screaming at him not to come to my graduation. I didn't want him there. He showed up anyway. Drunk. It was very embarrassing. Just one of the many times my dad has embarrassed me or one of my siblings showing up to an event drunk. He always thought he was fine.
The rest of this is kind of a blur because of the fact that there is SO MUCH that happened that is was hard to keep track. But it went something like this.
Winter 2008 DUI. He didn't get any jail time. Got to keep his licence and had to pay some fines.
Still was working for the Phillies at the time.
Later in 2008 he crashed his car. Drove it home. Drunk. Bragging to my 12 year old brother about how proud he was that he drove his wrecked car home. His car was so bad that it was screeching and burning rubber the the point where our neighbor ( a good friend of ours ) came out to see what was wrong and had to take his keys from him because she could see he was drunk.
Summer of 2008 about half way through the 2008 season the Phillies wanted to get my dad help. He had been going to the ballpark drunk. People were starting to notice. They wanted to get him help. So they sent him to rehab. He was in and out of 3 different rehabs over the next two years.
He missed out on the Phillies winning the 2008 World Series.
2009 He got another DUI and a drunk in public which should have been a DUI except the officers let him off with a drunk in public because they didn't have the staff to sit with him to get blood work to process the DUI.
Before the 2009 season started the Phillies decided to send him to Florida to coach for a minor league team while he was doing treatment. Once he got better, they were planning on bringing him back.
That never happened.
He went to work in Florida drunk one day and stumbled over in the clubhouse. They sent him home. Home to Pennsylvania. Back to rehab. Then they fired him. They gave him all the chances in the world to better him self and still offer him a job and he blew it.
He then proceeded to get his 3rd DUI and was sent to a halfway house where he was put on house arrest. This man has had 3 DUI's and no jail time. Everyone kept letting him off easy. He spend 10 months on house arrest. Only being able to leave to go to classes for treatment. He had his license taken away at his last DUI. He talked about how good he was going to do this time. How this time he changed.
It is Christmas 2010. He got off of house arrest 2 days before Christmas. Christmas Eve he was planning on coming to my mom's house to give us kids our Christmas presents. He told us one of the friends he made in the halfway house was going to drive him . We asked over and over again are you sure, we can come pick you up. No, no, no I have a ride. Ok. We are waiting for him and I call him to see where he is. He says he is about 10-15 minutes from our house .. 20, 30, 45 minutes passes and he still isn't here. Now because of the history my dad has our minds automatically go to he must have drove himself and got pulled over driving on a suspended license. We call over and over and over. No answer. It has now been about an hour past when he said he was going to be here. My brother and I get in the car and drive in the direction he was coming from to see if he got in an accident or what and happened. We don't see anything. He finally answers one of our calls and says "I got into an accident I'm taking a taxi to the house." We said no we'll come get you. He insisted on not wanting us to come and get him even though the accident only occurred 10 minutes from our house.
Now, we have been dealing with my dad's drinking problem for almost 4 years now. So we know all the signs .. how he talks when he's been drinking. How he looks. And just from taking to him on the phone I told my mom it sounded like he had been drinking. Everyone was giving him the benefit of the doubt .. but I knew better.
He showed up in a taxi and as soon as he walked in, as sober as he looked, I still had this feeling he had been drinking. Not only did he drive himself on a suspended license when we offered to give him a ride but he had also been drinking. But, he denied, denied, denied. He said he messed up by driving himself. He knew he was going to get in trouble. So he spends time with us and I go to take him to his friends house who he was meeting up with. And that's when it happened. I asked him "were you drinking" and he said "yes, I was". DAMMIT. I bust into tears. I'm the type of person who when I'm angry I cry. I can't help it but my anger turns into tears. He lied to us. He was out of house arrest for 2 DAYS and he had to have a drink. 10 months sober in the halfway house and he had a drink 48 hour after that ankle bracelet was taken off.
He ended up having to meet with his probation officer and they arrested him on the spot for driving on a suspended license. That's an automatic 90 days in jail. On top of the years time he got for his 4th DUI. So, he spent from December 2010 to Feburary 2011 in jail.
A video from my mine and my siblings point of view:
Today, he is doing great. He's been sober since that Christmas of 2010.
We know he can do it and we are all here to support him.
We know he can do it and we are all here to support him.