Ralphie Henriquez: Key West’s legendary baseball family lives on

Forty-five states and 12 years spent trying to make it to the Big Leagues, then one more year spent helping others reach the same goal. And then it was over. It was time for Ralphie Henriquez to come home.

His middle name is Manuel. So is his father’s. His grandfather’s, too. And perhaps his great grandfather’s. That would make him Ralph Henriquez IV. But somewhere along the way, he became Ralphie — a catcher with a world of promise. 

Ralphie the catcher in 2005 led Key West to its 11th state championship and days after that, he was a second-round amateur draft selection by the Houston Astros — the 72nd player selected. He was a valued selection, so well thought of that the Astros put a bonus of $485,000 in the 18-year-old’s bank account. 

There were some good seasons along the way, good enough that he played in AAA leagues, just one step below the coveted major leagues. 

Ralphie’s most noted minor league batting appearance came on June 19, 2008, when ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte came in as a reliever for the Staten Island Yankees against Ralphie’s Brooklyn Cyclones. After walking the first batter, he faced the switch-hitting Henriquez. With Henriquez lined up to bat right handed, Venditte moved to pitch right handed. So, Ralphie moved to bat left-handed. They both alternated until the umpire forced Henriquez to bat with his right hand, and let Venditte pitch with his right. Ralphie struck out on four pitches to end the game.

Ralphie played 12 seasons in the minor leagues, with farm teams from the Astros, Mets, Dodgers, Mariners and Pirates, then added another season, in 2017, as a coach in the Atlanta Braves system, primarily as a catching coach in the Gulf Coast League. It was there that he worked with a 16-year-old prospect from Venezuela. “He received a bonus of $4 million,” recalled Ralphie, marveling at the way bonuses had jumped since his payday. 

“I really enjoyed coaching with the Braves,” he explained. “But the next year, 2018, there was too much on my dad’s plate. I told the Braves that I needed to go home.” And so he did, essentially ending his playing as well as his pro coaching career.

Now, he helps his mother, Dee Dee Henriquez, run Waterview Estates, a 14-unit long- and short-term rental operation, two trailer parks down from Boyd’s Campground off Maloney Avenue on Stock Island. His family purchased it in 2013. “We offer seven- and 28-day rentals,” he said. 

He’s also not far from youth baseball. He helps his father coach the Conch varsity and travels with Keys youth teams. He has plenty of opportunities to help teenagers. This weekend, he was to be in Port Charlotte, along with three Keys youth teams and coaches Ralph Henriquez, T.J. Niles, Juanito Menendez, Brooks Carey and Doug Mientkiewicz, the latter the Coral Shores High School coach, who spent 13 years in the Majors and is one of five players who won gold medals at the 2000 Olympics as well as playing in the majors. 

The teams, while predominantly from Key West, also include players from up the Keys. 

Ralphie says his goal was always “Plan A, get to the big leagues. And if that doesn’t happen, Plan B — don’t let Plan A fail.” 

He says he’s all right with not getting to the major leagues. “I’m OK with that. I enjoyed every day, every game. I’m good. I worked hard. It wasn’t always about ability. Everybody can’t be Mike Trout.” 

“Now,” he says, “I’m just living life in Key West.” 

He says it’s different playing in Key West. “Here,” says Henriquez, “you play for a community, the history of the program. Everyone wants to beat Key West in Key West.”

Veteran sports columnist Ralph Morrow says the only sport he doesn’t follow is cricket. That leaves plenty of others to fill his time.