MESA, Ariz. -- A’s fans are not going to like this.
They have another prospective football player on the team.
“I’ve got my backup plan,” Liam Hendriks said Monday morning. “NFL. Punter.”
“I was kicking it around with Marquette King last year when he came down to hang out [at Spring Training],” Hendriks said, referring to the former Raiders punter. “We were just kicking it around. I put a couple past him.”
OK, a little background: We know Hendriks, 30, as a versatile member of the Oakland bullpen and starter in last year’s American League Wild Card Game, but he also played Australian rules football while growing up in Perth, Australia. He didn’t give up the sport until shortly before signing his first professional baseball contract with the Twins in 2007.
Hendriks was a defenseman. He said his longest kick was between 65 and 70 meters. That’s a bit more than 70-75 yards. Different ball, sure, but impressive nonetheless. Hendriks hopes to improve upon those numbers with early-afternoon punting workouts at the Oakland Coliseum this year.
“I’m waiting on my boots to come in,” he said, using world football vernacular for the soccer cleats he’s due to receive from Adidas. “My biggest thing is just the consistency now. In Australia, you kick it end-over-end. In the NFL, it’s a spiral.”
It’s wonderful to have outside interests, of course, but might this be a little too soon for the A’s to confront another two-sport athlete?
Remember, there was the first-rounder who was supposed to be in camp this year . . .
“Oh no, I can’t throw a football to save my life,” Hendriks assured his interviewer. “I’m out on that. But I can kick one pretty decently.”
Do Billy Beane and David Forst need to renegotiate Hendriks’ contract, in order to prevent him from pursuing football?
Hendriks laughed. He avoided salary arbitration by signing a one-year, $2.15 million contract with the A’s in November.
“I think I’ve given them enough headaches so far,” he replied.
In fairness, Hendriks’ multisport background has helped him endure while moving among six Major League Baseball organizations, including the Blue Jays twice. He has pitched competitively in eight countries: Australia, the United States, Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Czech Republic and Taiwan, when including tournaments with Team Australia. He’s eager to add a ninth in the coming days, as he joins the A’s on their trip to MLB’s Japan Opening Series.
Hendriks has thrown 406 innings in the Majors, fourth all time among Australian-born pitchers. He has a 1.59 ERA this spring after holding the Rockies scoreless while recording two outs in relief Monday. Not bad for someone who said baseball was “an offseason gig” in between his Aussie football seasons. He also played cricket at Sacred Heart College, his high school in Perth.
Hendriks’ baseball experience came largely with a local club team. He played for his high school’s baseball team, too.
“But,” he cautioned, “we had two people who’d played the game before, and we came in second in the state. It wasn’t great competition.”
Just to make sure there is absolutely, positively, no ambiguity about Hendriks’ sports future: One source confirms that he will not declare for the upcoming NFL Draft.
“I’m not going to leave baseball until my arm falls off,” he said, “but it would be nice to have something in the back pocket, just in case. . . . It’s still the third plan.”
The third plan?
“The next plan is to pull the [R.A.] Dickey and start throwing the knuckleball,” he said.
Has he tried it before?
“Once, in the Dominican [Republic],” said Hendriks, who spent the winter of 2014-2015 pitching for the Aguilas Cibaenas. “I hit the guy. The next pitch was a fastball, and the guy hit a homer. Haven’t thrown it in a game since, but I have hit people in the chest with them just missing it [while playing catch], so it’s decent.”
So if you’re scoring at home, Hendriks’ professional priorities are as follows: 1) conventional Oakland A’s pitcher; 2) Oakland A’s knuckleballer; 3) NFL punter. After that, he says he’ll be a stay-at-home father whenever he and his wife, Kristi, begin a family.
For now, he’s focused on baseball and numerous charitable efforts, including anti-cyberbullying and animal rescue initiatives. He’s working with “Blessings in a Backpack,” which helps elementary school students gain access to meals on weekends when they would be at risk of going hungry. He’s also a diehard fan of the Montreal Canadiens.
But after those soccer boots arrive, he’ll get to work in the Coliseum outfield, long before batting practice. He owns one football . . . and hopes some former (current?) neighbors will add to his supply.
“I need the Raiders to drop off like 15 balls,” he said, “so I can kick them and don’t have to run and get them every time.”
The Raiders aren’t sure yet where they’ll play in 2019, but at least Hendriks has settled on which sport he’ll pursue.
Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.