SEATTLE — At the end of the numerous batting practice sessions Buck Britton threw to the likes of Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Jordan Westburg and the other high-ranking Orioles prospects throughout the years, he’d occasionally plant a seed.

“Hey,” Britton would call out, “whenever you guys go to the Derby, make sure to call me.”

It was in passing, in jest. He knew these players had the ability one day to reach the majors — and beyond that, to reach the stardom of the Home Run Derby — but the Triple-A Norfolk manager didn’t necessarily expect that phone call to ever come.

Then on Tuesday, during the second inning of the Tides game, Britton’s phone lit up. He saw Henderson’s name on the screen and wondered why his former player would be texting him at that moment. And when he read the message, he froze.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Will you throw to me in the Home Run Derby? Henderson texted.

“We’re in the middle of the second inning and I go into shock,” Britton said. “I don’t know if the players saw that. It was half panic, half shock.”

In his mind, Britton immediately said yes. But he waited until after Norfolk’s game to not appear “unprofessional,” and he hasn’t stopped thinking about what’s to come in Arlington, Texas, on July 15. The nerves haven’t totally subsided, but Britton’s mind also settles on the years of batting practice pitches he has thrown to Henderson.

They began at the alternate training site together in 2020, when Henderson was only 19. They continued when Britton became manager at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. And while Henderson’s rise to the majors limits the time he and Britton spend together, they still have batting practice sessions during spring training.

In all, Britton has seen Henderson grow into one of the best players in baseball. It doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the rapid development Britton saw at the alternate training site.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Essentially a high school kid playing against guys who’ve pitched in the major leagues,” Britton said. “When he first got into that alt site, things didn’t go great for him, especially in live BPs and stuff. But there was a gear Gunnar had in him, and by the time we left that alt site, he was the best player there. You just continued to see him solve problems when they arose throughout the minor leagues and become the best player at each level. And he’s doing it again.”

Even as a manager, Britton takes a hands-on approach to batting practice. He generally throws to the first group of hitters ready — and Henderson was almost always in that group.

“It’s going to be pretty special,” Henderson said. “I spent a lot of time with Buck at the minor league level, and then at spring training. He was pumped up for it, and I’m looking forward to doing it with him.”

They’ve gotten to know each other’s tendencies and what they prefer. Henderson said Britton’s throwing motion is smooth, which makes it easier to pick the ball up out of his hand.

Baltimore Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson (2) sticks his tongue out as he celebrates a home run against the Cleveland Guardians on June 25. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Britton won’t need to groove his pitches as precisely as some home run hitters demand. Henderson can spray pitches all over the field, taking pitches where they’re thrown, and he showed that ability Thursday when he sent his 27th homer of the season to the opposite field.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Gunnar makes it easy on you,” Britton said. “He’s so strong, and he hits the ball so hard and far, you just need to get it close. He’s not one of those guys you have to hit a certain spot on every pitch. I’m excited to be out there and competing with him.”

But there’s pressure with this opportunity, too. Britton is used to throwing to Henderson when the stadium is quiet, long before fans trickle in, or on the secluded backfields of spring training in Florida.

Now, they’ll be center stage at Globe Life Field. They won’t be working on proper batting mechanics but rather trying to maximize power and perfect launch angle.

“Anxiety, No. 1,” Britton said. “I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop thinking about what it’s going to be like to compete with him in that environment. And at the end of the day, you want to do so well for Gunnar, because you know anything Gunnar does — he can say he just wants to be competitive — the guy wants to win, right? And I don’t want to be the guy who screws up his opportunity to win.”

There’s a look that comes into Henderson’s eyes, Britton said, that he knows well from his time managing him. It’s a fiery look, one that calls upon anyone seeing it to bring their all, or to step up their game.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“My goal is to not see that look in his eye that says you’re not holding up your end of the bargain,” Britton joked. “I’ve seen that look many-a-time. Like, ‘Hey, it’s go time.’ He wants to win at everything he does, and that’s what makes him great. But it adds a little bit of pressure.”

Britton will take that pressure, though, because it means he and Henderson are back together again. And because one of his players actually fulfilled his lighthearted request.