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Anthony Fenech | Detroit Free Press | June 21, 2019

Friendship runs deep for Michigan's Kauffman, Henry as Wolverines on the brink of a CWS final

Michigan on what makes Team 153 special

OMAHA, Neb. — The odd couple met when they were 15 years old, when they joined a newly formed college showcase team called the Midwest Athletics and their parents still had to drive them to practice.

One is left-handed, from the west side of Michigan, straight-edge. The other is right-handed, from Michigan's east side, and not so serious. Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann were born 17 days apart, and over the past seven years, Michigan's 1-2 punch at the top of the starting rotation has probably been apart for maybe 17 more.

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"The only time we're away from each other is, like, Christmas break, and that's really it," Henry said.

Do they miss each other when they're apart?

"That's a good question," Kauffmann, the righty, said. "It feels like we're missing a piece of the puzzle."

"No," Henry, the lefty, said. "I think we need to get away from each other a little bit."

They laugh.

From that travel team, to school years in Ann Arbor, to summers in Cape Cod, to getting drafted within three picks of each other earlier this month, and now the College World Series, Henry and Kauffmann have been together through the lowest of lows and are closing in on the highest of highs, doing exactly what they set out to do together at U-M.

"I'd say we went to Michigan with the goal of leaving our mark," Kauffmann said. "And throughout it all — maybe it didn't look as bright at some points, maybe it did look as bright at some points -- but ultimately, we're here right now."

They could have gone elsewhere. Kauffmann was a top recruit, Henry a scrawny lefty; but once the former committed, the latter followed, and soon, they were rooming together in West Quad as freshmen, and Karl wasn't feeling good.

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"And then he started doing this zombie noise," Henry said.

'I've never seen fear like this'

They slept in bunk beds — Kauffmann on the top, Henry on the bottom  — so they could have more room for their Wednesday-night Madden football league with five other freshman baseball players.

But on that day, Kauffmann was moaning. Henry rigged the lower bunk to let Kauffmann sit upright as he coughed, before calling Harrison Salter, two doors down, for help.

They texted baseball trainer Kimberly Hill, telling her that Kauffmann was turning into a zombie, then dosed him with melatonin to help him fall asleep. And then head coach Erik Bakich called, around 1 a.m., and said he would be there in two minutes: Kauffmann was going to the hospital.

The trip to the hospital went like this, Henry recalled, laughing: "He shows up, we carry Karl down the stairs, load him up in the passenger's seat. Salter and I pile into the back, unbuckled because Coach has car seats in there and stuff — we're crammed into one seat -- and all of a sudden, 'EB turns onto State Street.'

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"Like Karl's in labor. He's going 65 down State Street and there's a crosswalk there and there are kids leaving the library at 1 a.m., or the bars, whatever it was, and he lays on the horn, and the kids turn.

"And I've never seen fear like this in people's eyes before. Everyone screams out loud in the crosswalk and starts sprinting as far away from the crosswalk as they can, me and Salter looking at each other in the back, Karl's moaning in the passenger's seat."

They made it to the hospital and stayed late. Karl had pnuemonia, and a collapsed lung. It wasn't fun. It felt like he got stabbed.

"That was absurd," Henry says.

The odd couple

They were still laughing about this when Kauffmann tried to explain how they are an odd couple.

"Tommy's the golden child," he said. "Tommy's the one, he's always keeping me straight. He's gotta babysit me, take care of me in the dorms, take me to the hospital."

Henry tends to be more mature and Kauffman messes around a lot, but between the lines, they have similarly competitive natures. They're also similar in their rank within U-M's rotation, something that became evident following their regional victory at Oregon State.

Leaving the field in Corvallis, Oregon, after beating Creighton to advance, the team realized they had forgotten to take a picture, and hopped off the bus. Meanwhile, a coach was following the compensation rounds of the draft. First, Henry was picked by the Arizona Diamondbacks at 74th overall and then Kauffmann went to the Colorado Rockies 77th overall.

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The team mobbed them after hearing the news.

"That was crazy," Henry said. "To have another dream, on top of that, to come true in the span of six minutes together, and how our team was there to dogpile on us each, honestly, it was exactly how you would draw it up if you were thinking about it."

Said Kauffman: "Me seeing him at his lowest, him seeing me at my lowest, a lot of different scenarios, just struggling really, and then to succeed, that's been pretty awesome."

'We're still in business mode'

As the College World Series rolls on, the stakes are higher and Bakich's bullpen has become shorter. Henry and Kauffmann loom as the two most important players on a Wolverines team is three wins away from U-M's first national championship since 1962.

Kauffmann will start on Friday against Texas Tech with a spot in the CWS finals on the line, and Henry will likely follow him. They have already set the mark they dreamed of in their dorms -- both broke U-M's single-season innings record this year, which dated back to '62 -- by pitching U-M to Omaha.

"There were plenty of nights in the dorms where we were sitting there, just talking about baseball, about this experience right here," Kauffmann said. "And how it's why we came here. And this has always been our goal and so, for it to kind of be here right now -- be in the middle of it, experiencing it -- it's pretty cool."

Jimmy Kerr continues family legacy at Michigan

Henry quickly finished Kauffmann's thought: "But now is not the time for us to soak it in, because we're still in business mode."

They have become best friends — as have their parents — and they haven't played on a team without each other since that first travel team.

These Day 1 MLB draft picks are as different outside the lines as they are similar on the mound. But the bond Henry and Kauffmann share took U-M baseball to the next level -- which is exactly why they came here in the first place.

"I think that will be something kind of next week and even in the future that will set in," Kauffmann said, borrowing from Henry's statement. "Right now, it's more, we got Texas Tech tomorrow. The legacy's not cemented. We're just trying to grow it."

This article is written by Anthony Fenech from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Division I
College World Series
June 13-23/24, 2020
TD Ameritrade Park | Omaha, NE

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