SEATTLE -- For Rick Rizzs, the words blurred with tears. He wanted to talk about Dave Henderson, but his heart still ached a day after his longtime friend had died at the age of 57 of a heart attack at Harborview Hospital.
"He had that big body to hold that big heart, and it gave out way too early," the Mariners broadcaster said Monday after spending all Sunday with Henderson's wife and family and friends at the former Major Leaguer's home in West Seattle. "Hendu was one of the nicest, most compassionate people you'd ever want to meet. He was a tremendous athlete and incredible baseball player, but he was 100 times more than that as a person because he was so giving. He cared about everybody."
Henderson had a kidney transplant on Oct. 26, but he had been doing well until his sudden heart attack on Saturday night, Rizzs said. Now the baseball world is mourning the loss of the 14-year MLB veteran and postseason hero of the Red Sox and A's. And Rizzs is left with a hole in his own life.
The two worked together on Mariners broadcasts for 12 years after Henderson retired as a player, and they teamed up in 1995 to form the Toys for Kids program that has grown into a hugely successful Christmas charity for homeless families, children dealing with cancer and other challenges in the Seattle area.
Rizzs recalled how the annual holiday visits led to Henderson befriending a woman who worked at a downtown women's shelter. After discovering the worker was driving an old car that was on its last legs, he purchased her a new vehicle.
"Who does that?" Rizzs said. "Dave Henderson does that. He was very wise with his money, but not afraid to help people. He was an amazing human being.
"Toys for Kids was founded in a bar in Pioneer Square 20 years ago after a game one night when we were talking about homeless people. We saw the need to help kids and said, 'Let's do this.' That was Hendu. He never sweated the little things, he just did what he could and he always had that smile on his face and made you feel good about yourself and your life. He just got it."
Henderson's big heart was also needed at home, as his oldest son, Chase, was born with Angelman syndrome, a genetic disorder. Chase, now 30, was a constant companion of Henderson's as he carried or pushed him around in a wheelchair at the ballpark, around Alki Beach, everywhere he went.
Rizzs said when Henderson did leave Chase behind, his son would work his way over to the window of their home and await his return.
"Yesterday he just crawled over and sat looking out the window," Rizzs said. "It just broke your heart."
Rizzs said Henderson's wife, Nancy, and younger son, Trent, will care for Chase now. But there will be a large void for everyone in Henderson's life.
Rizzs reflects back on his own son's youth as his first window into Henderson's heart.
"My first year with the Mariners, in 1983, we had the annual father and son's and daughter's game," Rizzs said. "My son, who is now 35, had a chance to play and he had his little Mariners uniform on, and I was up in the booth with Dave Niehaus and Kevin Cremin. My son hit the ball, ran to first and kept running to right field. The game continued, and he just kept running. He finally got all the way to the right-field wall there in the Kingdome. And one guy, Dave Henderson, went out and got him and slung him over his shoulder and walked him back in. And I said right then, 'That's a special human being.'
"Over the years I got to know him, and I'm so glad that I did. He was an amazing person. He was great at everything. He was great at baseball, at life, at broadcasting, at being a father. The man had five or six lifetimes crammed into his life, which was cut way too short. But he enjoyed every minute of it."
After six seasons with the Mariners, Henderson went on to play for four other teams and participated in four World Series. But his home remained in Seattle, where he returned after his playing days.
"He played for the Mariners, the Red Sox, the A's, the Giants and the Royals. And now he plays for the Angels," Rizzs said. "Dave Niehaus is broadcasting a game with Hendu playing now for the Angels. God needed a good center fielder and he got one."