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Remembering 2014: Mark Hendrickson’s home games

Hendrickson & Buck

The off-season is upon us, but we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps.  Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2014 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution, for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark.  This week, we re-visit Ron Gardner’s profile on 10-year MLB veteran Mark Hendrickson, a York resident who pitched for his adopted hometown team for the first time in 2014.

By Ron Gardner

Someday, when his baseball playing days are behind him, Revolution pitcher Mark Hendrickson says he wants to find out how good a golfer he might become.

“I love being an athlete,” said Hendrickson, who lives in Spring Garden Township and is playing in his first season for the York Revolution. “For me, it was a career. Even when I’m done with baseball, my next aspiration is golf. Just the lure of like ‘okay, how good can I be in golf if I can commit to it full-time?’ That’s just something I’ve enjoyed doing.”

For the 6-9, 245-pound Hendrickson, who will celebrate his 40th birthday on June 23 and is a member of a very exclusive fraternity of professional athletes (try just 12) who have played in both the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, it always been about the “what could be.”

Hendrickson has always been a transcendent athlete and was a three-sport standout in tennis, baseball and basketball at Mount Vernon High School in the state of Washington. Mount Vernon won two state baseball titles during Hendrickson’s high school career, plus another two state titles in basketball. After his senior year, the Atlanta Braves drafted Hendrickson (13th round) in 1992, but he turned down that opportunity for a pro baseball career to play college basketball at Washington State.

“I loved college basketball more than college baseball at the time, but I still loved baseball,” Hendrickson said. “There wasn’t anything that I loved more, it was just basketball…and I wanted to go to college. That’s the decision I made, I’m glad I did because if I had signed out of high school, I wouldn’t have learned the valuable lessons that I learned in college. If I’m telling anybody, unless you’re getting money you really can’t turn down, go to college. It just taught me so much. It was a foundation for me going forward in my professional career once I got out.”

While Hendrickson went on to play four years of college basketball at Washington State (averaging 13.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game and twice being named to the All-Pac-10 Conference first team), he continued to excel playing college baseball for the Cougars. And MLB teams kept on drafting him for the next five years – San Diego Padres (‘93), Braves (‘94), Detroit Tigers (’95), Texas Rangers (’96) and Toronto Blue Jays (’97).

But Hendrickson’s focus at that time was squarely on the 1996 NBA draft, where he was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, 31st overall.

“I try to tell people, when I look back on it, the NBA draft is two rounds, and if you’re not in that first round, you’re (just) trying to make the team,” Hendrickson said. “It is a very difficult league to break into.”

The NBA would also prove to be a very difficult league for Hendrickson to stay in. He played only part-time for the Sixers during his rookie season in 1996-97, averaging 2.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in 10.4 minutes per game.

During his first NBA off-season, Hendrickson’s love of baseball and competition drew him to York, PA (where both of his parents had grown up and gone to high school) to play that summer in York County’s Susquehanna League, an amateur adult league.

He signed with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings as a free agent in December 1997 and appeared in 48 games that season, averaging 15.4 minutes, 3.4 points and 3.0 rebounds off the bench, but he also elected to play pro baseball in the summer while continuing his basketball career, signing with the Blue Jays on May 22, 1998 and he appeared in 16 games with Toronto’s A-advanced affiliate in Dunedin (4-3, 2.37 ERA, five starts)

Un-signed by any NBA team for the 1998-99 season, Hendrickson played with the LaCrosse Bobcats of the Continental Basketball League (CBA), where he played most of that year. He played briefly with the New Jersey Nets during the ’98-’99 and ’99-’00 seasons, and also with the Cleveland Cavaliers in ’99-’00. But while his NBA dreams may have been fading, his summers spent playing in baseball’s minor leagues was showing some promise of what could be for Hendrickson.

Hendrickson pitched at both the Single-A and Double-A levels in 1999 and 2000, and then the Blue Jays invited him to participate in the prestigious Arizona Fall League in 2000, where baseball’s premiere prospects traditionally come together to compete.

“(With) my progression in the minor leagues, the fall league was the next step,” Hendrickson said. “I had been three years in the Blue Jays’ system and my agent basically said this is something, if you want people to take you seriously, you cannot turn down. And so I went. Nothing was happening basketball-wise. I had a great fall league stats-wise (2-3, 2.70 ERA in seven starts).”

But despite his strong fall performance in Arizona and with pro basketball most likely still looked at as a potential option for him, the Blue Jays elected not to protect Hendrickson on their 40-man roster, followed by no other Major League club claiming him in the Rule 5 draft.

“To me, that was kind of the writing on the wall that nobody was going to take me seriously if I’m only doing this three months out of the year,” Hendrickson said. “So, I called up the Blue Jays and I said I’ll be in spring training and I’ll see you in March. And a year-and-a-half later, I was up (in the big leagues).”

Hendrickson made his MLB debut at age 28 on August 6, 2002 and he posted a 3-0 record and 2.45 ERA with Toronto in 36.2 innings. He started 30 games for the Blue Jays in 2003 and would go on to play exclusively at the major league level for the next eight consecutive seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays (2004-06), Los Angeles Dodgers (2006-07), Florida Marlins (2008) and Baltimore Orioles (2009-11). Hendrickson struck out 666 big-league hitters in 328 MLB games.

Despite that longevity as a Major League pitcher, he wasn’t ready when he found himself without a baseball job in 2012. He was back pitching in the Susquehanna League, inviting pro scouts to come watch him pitch and had no takers.

“Everything kind of ran its course,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve always been somebody who would adapt to things, I would be an honest evaluator of my own talents and the way I pitched, it just ran its course.”

But Hendrickson wasn’t ready to retire, but knew he needed to make some changes, something dramatically different, if he was to realistically think about a possible return to the Majors. He would become a side-arming southpaw, hoping his new motion and height would make him a truly unique option.

“It was completely starting over,” Hendrickson said. “It was a complete overhaul. Everything I knew, even as far as my own delivery, how the ball came out, how my pitches would come out, how the hitter would react to how my pitches came out … everything was completely new.”

Was Hendrickson’s quirky new approach designed for those special bullpen situations when a left-handed reliever is brought into the game to get a key out against a top left-handed handed batter?

“Could be, but it’s also presenting something that nobody else has,” Hendrickson said. “First off, you have 6-9 left-hander. Now you’re throwing sidearm. Who in the big leagues has that when they step on the rubber? Not one person.”

“Now if I stayed conventional, an 88-90 mph lefthander (who) mixes and matches his pitches … you can find those guys all over the place. It’s also what am I creating for the hitter, my advantage over the hitter. I don’t throw 95 mph. No problem saying that. What separates the big-league guys from all the pitchers is you either have plus-plus stuff or you have deception and that’s the one thing people don’t realize. Hitters will tell you there’s something about some guy and it just creates that deception that makes it effective.”

Hendrickson’s newfound delivery impressed the Orioles enough in 2013 that they offered him a Triple-A opportunity with the Norfolk Tides.

“They were really intrigued with this new arm angle and so was I,” Hendrickson said. “It was a learning experience and I struggled the first couple months in Triple-A. As the year progressed, I got better and better and I felt like I got more comfortable with it and I was really encouraged last year at the end of the season. Even though I didn’t get called up, I was excited by the progress.”

In 40 games for Norfolk, Hendrickson was 5-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 67.2 innings of work, but despite the progress feels he made during 2013, Hendrickson was again on the outside looking in as spring training got underway this year. He talked to his wife, Courtney, about pitching one more season, this time commuting to Santander Stadium to pitch for the Revolution

“I said I did this with the intent of making it to the big leagues,” Hendrickson said. “It’s not easy or more guys would do it. I got better last year. I didn’t do it just to play one year at Triple-A and say thanks. No, the way I progressed, I’ve got to go one more year. And she was like ‘Yeah, you can’t stop here.”

In his first eight appearances with the Revolution, Hendrickson continued to make a strong case to any and all MLB organizations that might be watching. He didn’t give up an earned run in that time, struck out 7 batters in 8.1 innings of work and opposing batters are hitting just .200 against him. He’s confident that he’s in the right spot, pitching in the Atlantic League where his work will get noticed and hopefully results in one last opportunity for Hendrickson to fight his way back to the Major Leagues.

“It’s two calls,” Hendrickson said. “Last year, I started in Triple-A, it was one call. Now it’s two. What I’ve found in this league is that there are guys that I am shaking my head (about) right now, I’ve been around long enough, why are they not worthy of being on a Triple-A roster?

“But the advantage for some of these guys, and I will say this because I played in the CBA my second year in basketball and the CBA at the time was the minor leagues, but I could play for any team. The benefit of that is, if you’re going to get called up on a team from here, you’re probably going to go for a team that’s specifically looking for you. A lot of times what ends up happening is you end up making a decision in January, sometimes you can buried in one organization. (Then another) organization has a need for your specific position or whatever you do, and you’re with the wrong organization and you’re stuck.”

And while Hendrickson waits for the call that he hopes will soon come, being at home with Courtney, stepdaughter Hannah (19) and daughters Sadie (3) and Sophia (1) is a very welcome benefit to playing at home in York after years of the nomadic baseball life. Despite all the moves from team to team in an 18-year professional career, York will always be home to Hendrickson and his family.

“I think if I’m honest, and my wife can attest to this, the lifestyle itself has gotten old for her,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life, but 18 years as a professional athlete, there’s some things honestly that she’s tired of. It’s the being away, it’s daddy not being around. This is as good a fit as we can do because she knows what I’m committed to doing this year. But if it doesn’t work out and that’s it for me, it’s always been the highest level or not, then I may rethink how much more I’m going to play.”

“The flip side of what people don’t see is what wives go through. We chose even when we had our two youngest daughters that she wasn’t going to pack them up and just travel. We wanted stability for them and as a result, even last year when I was at Triple-A in Norfolk, I pretty much came home every off day I could. That’s just the way we were – we just didn’t have them traveling around. For me, I need a place where she’s comfortable, where the kids are comfortable, and that’s usually what happens with a lot of guys. You pick spots, but ultimately, it’s what your wife and kids want because they’re a big part of this too.”

“I tell guys, ‘look this game’s great, you can play it as long as you want, you can say you want them to rip the jersey off. Just wait until you have kids. Then wait until you have kids who are in school – that’s a whole other ballgame. If you’re a parent who wants your kids to have the best, you’re not going to take them out of school.’ And that’s the stuff that people don’t realize.”

Back in 2012 when he was out of professional for the first time since 1998, Hendrickson started a real estate company, something that he says he’s passionate about, preparing for life after baseball.

“It was more of the case in 2012 like a door slamming in my face,” Hendrickson said. “I didn’t know what was going on. For me, I’ve always lived to be an athlete and prepare as an athlete. Here I am going through the season and I’m watching the Orioles and Major League Baseball on TV and I’m like what’s going on? What am I doing? It was kind of a chance to really say ‘Look, at some point it’s going to be done.’”

“Every player I’ve known has retired at some point – they’re not playing their whole life. It got me to think outside the box and it was good for me. It was an education. I’ve been doing real estate for two years and grown the business. Obviously, I’m not able to grow the business as much as I would like to because I’m basically handling two jobs, so to speak. But it’s growing at a nice pace, so when I do decide, it’s going to be a business I can put my full attention towards when I’m done playing.”

But as you could guess, it’s not quite the same thing as getting a called third strike on a hitter.

“Does it give me the same feeling as pitching?” Hendrickson said. “No, but it’s something I really enjoy and I like the results and the products that we put out and what it means for people to get a nice home and that’s what we strive to do. There are some things I’m learning about real world business as I get involved with it. It’s a little bit different, but it’s another challenge. That’s what I live for – just challenges.”


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