KANSAS CITY -- Liam Hendriks is an inspiration to so many people because of his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and his amazing return to the mound five months after the initial diagnosis.
This uplifting story will be recognized by the White Sox faithful at Guaranteed Rate Field as well as opposing fan bases wanting him to give up three or four runs in the ninth. It’s a concept the All-Star closer didn’t “quite get” until a recent conversation with his wife, Kristi.
“She’s like, ‘You have to understand how big this is for a lot of people … for a lot of people going through this,’” said Hendriks on a Zoom call after his first injury rehab appearance with Triple-A Charlotte Friday night at Gwinnett. “[She said], 'This is more than about, Oh, you missed six weeks. It’s more about you overcoming something extreme and then that you are getting back on the mound so quickly. [It] represents a lot of people who are going through this right now.'
“I definitely appreciated that. It’s something that will follow me around for a little bit, I’m sure. I want to make sure I make a positive impact and make sure that I do right by everybody who is currently battling through this and going through treatment or just finished treatments or has a family going through it. I always have to take a step back and realize it’s not about the timeline you are at. It’s about what you are going through and what you can represent to a lot of people.”
Let’s take a quick look at that Hendriks’ injury rehab timeline. He followed up a scoreless inning Friday by allowing one earned run in one inning during Charlotte’s 18-11 victory Sunday, yielding singles to Eli White and Vaughn Grissom. Hendriks threw a total of 23 pitches between Friday and Sunday, and while he wouldn’t specifically lay out his pitching program, an outing at Charlotte figures to follow Tuesday followed by possible back-to-back outings.
If all goes well, the Cleveland home series from May 16-18 looks like a realistic Major League target.
“There’s a plan in place,” Hendriks said. “But as you know with all these rehab assignments and that sort of stuff, it’s written in pencil, never in pen.”
Countless letters of well wishes came to Liam and Kristi as he went through chemotherapy. Even fans asking for baseball cards to be autographed sent along notes of hope, according to Hendriks. He didn’t want to put a percentage on how many of those notes belonged to fellow cancer patients, aside from adding, “There was a lot.”
“Some of them were, ‘Hey, I've been battling through this, and I just got cleared,' or 'I just got told this is my last round,’” Hendriks said.’” Hendriks said. “There were some for they were going through cancer. There were some for they were going through other things. You get choked up a little bit because you don't realize the impact of me posting and doing things like that and seeing my recovery and seeing me throw bullpens and some of this other stuff. That sort of stuff has an impact on people.
“And that is something that I want to make sure I treat the right way because there's a lot of people going through a lot of worse things than I am. If they are using me as someone like, ‘Hey, he's done it, I know I can do it,’ that's something I want to make sure I treat the right way.
“That positive mentality … the will to push through everything,” Hendriks added. “If I can impart any wisdom on anything, it's just making sure I can be the best positive icon or whatever I need to be to make sure I can help anybody that's currently going through anything like this.”