Former Alabama prep star hits 429-foot homer in MLB debut

Former Morgan Academy standout Gunnar Henderson came to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday as the No. 1 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. And in his Major League debut, Henderson did not disappoint.

After fouling out deep to left in his first MLB at-bat, Henderson delivered a home run in his second trip to the plate as Baltimore’s third baseman.

In the Orioles’ 4-0 victory over the Cleveland Guardians, Henderson produced the first run of the American League game when he led off the fourth inning by hitting an 88-mph slider from Triston McKenzie 429 feet to right-center at progressive field. The 2-2 pitch rocketed off Henderson’s bat at 107 mph.

Henderson’s swing caused his batting helmet to pop off, a scene he repeated in the ninth inning when he singled.

“They’re all too small,” Henderson said of the Orioles’ batting helmets. “I’ve got too much hair on my head right now.”

Henderson became the fourth Baltimore player to hit a home run in his MLB debut, joining Larry Haney in 1966, Jonathan Schoop in 2013 and Trey Mancini in 2016. Like Henderson, Haney and Mancini homered in their second at-bats. Schoop homered in his third.

“It was a pretty surreal moment, being able to do that,” Henderson said, “especially with my family here and especially in the first game. It was an awesome moment and one that I won’t forget.”

Alabama’s Mr. Baseball in 2019 while playing for Morgan Academy in Selma, Henderson joined the Orioles in the second round of the 2019 draft. Baltimore called him up from the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, his fifth stop in the Orioles’ farm system.

“It’s been a dream come true,” Henderson said. “This is what I’ve wanted to do since I very first started playing baseball. Just being able to come out here and do it, especially in front of my family and this crowd, is really awesome.”

Henderson’s family scrambled to get to Cleveland to watch his MLB debut.

“I can’t thank God enough for allowing them to be able to make it here and witness this and be a part of it,” Henderson said. “I’m really glad they were able to make it, and, like I said, it’s something I won’t ever forget.”

In each of the previous three full MLB seasons, the Orioles have lost at least 108 games. But Baltimore has a 68-61 record in 2022 after beating Cleveland and is battling for one of the American League’s wild-card spots in the playoffs.

Henderson will approach the big leagues the same way he’s handled being a highly regarded prospect.

“Just the stuff my parents have instilled in me throughout my career so far – just being able to stay down to earth and not let any of the outside noise get to me,” Henderson said. “I felt like I do that really well and just go day-by-day and try to get better.”

Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.

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