Gunnar Henderson had a game to play that night. But he was also on a mission to get the signatures of two of his favorite players, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

It was May 2023, and Henderson had played only about 60 major league games. He, like many aspiring professional players, grew up idolizing Trout and Ohtani, two of the biggest stars of the game. And, like many, he wanted their autographs.

So he bought their jerseys and asked if the home clubhouse attendant could take them to the visitors clubhouse. He did not talk to either that night — Ohtani was starting and Trout, at the time, seemed untouchable — but he did acquire both of their autographs.

It sparked a daydream for Henderson: one day, a long way down the road when his playing days are done, how cool would it be to have a man cave and batting cage filled with memorabilia of guys he played against? It would be even more special, he thought, if they were guys he played against when he was coming up through the ranks.

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So he got to collecting and soon realized he could simply ask the players to swap instead of purchasing their jerseys.

“Everybody brings something different to the game,” Henderson said. “It’s cool to see all the different personalities in the game. It’s definitely cool to be able to commemorate 20, 30 years down the road. It’ll be pretty special to have all of this stuff.”

Henderson started with the Diamondbacks’ Corbin Carroll, whom he played with in amateur showcases, last September. They both went on to win Rookie of the Year honors in their respective leagues. He added Miguel Cabrera, who retired at the end of last season after 20 years.

“Had to get that one,” Henderson said. “That was pretty cool.”

This year, he’s already swapped with the Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr., whom he met when they were in high school, and the Reds’ Elly De La Cruz, whom he played against in the minors. He also exchanged with the Athletics’ Darell Hernaiz, who was drafted by the Orioles the same year as Henderson. They were roommates in rookie ball and have stayed close since Hernaiz was traded to the Athletics in exchange for Cole Irvin in 2023.

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He will keep collecting as much he can, he said, but he’s not sure who he wants to get next.

“I’ll see him and I’ll be like ‘oh yeah, let’s do it,’” Henderson said. “I don’t really plan it too far ahead of time.”

Henderson plans to buy a house with his fiancée, where, he hopes, he’ll have that man cave and batting cage filled with memorabilia — although he wants to keep his individual milestones and those of his opponents separate. Until then, his stuff is scattered everywhere, from his parents’ house to his temporary residence in Baltimore to his locker inside the Orioles’ clubhouse.

And he did, finally, get to talk to Trout this year. He was wary of bringing up the fact that he grew up watching him — Trout has been in the majors since Henderson was 11 — but they discussed their shared love of hunting.

As for what baseball things they talked about? Henderson just smiled.

“Not too much,” he said. “He did say he enjoyed watching me play.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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