Denlinger: Blacksmith & 'big-time power arm'

July 13th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Theo Denlinger is a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher who is close to getting his Master’s degree in business administration from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., but he still has one year of remaining collegiate eligibility.

Those facts about the White Sox seventh-round pick in the 2021 Draft represent only the beginning of his engaging story.

“My journey is one helluva grind,” Denlinger told during a phone interview. “But here I am and I’m still kicking and I’m going to show these boys what 25 can do.

“It is more than a dream come true. It’s absolutely everything I’ve ever done to try to get here finally paying off, and finally getting my chance after all these years.”

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Denlinger was speaking Monday night during his drive home from competition for the Madison Mallards in the Northwoods League, where he joked his teammates call him “Grandpa.” Those teammates also could call him a blacksmith, a craft he has been working at for seven years, or Tatanka Hok Shi-La, which translates as Buffalo Boy and is his name as an adopted member of the Lakota Sioux.

But let’s look at baseball first. Denlinger has a fastball touching 101 mph in the Northwoods League, although he’s not sure how accurate those speed gun ratings are. Denlinger certainly can hit the high 90s and has a special determination that unofficially grades out well above 100 mph.

“I was never going to do a desk job,” Denlinger said. “My job was going to be on that mound and it’s going to continue being on the mound, and it’s going to be for the White Sox.”

“He’s got a big-time power arm,” said White Sox director of amateur scouting Mike Shirley of Denlinger. “He is a former football player who just continues to unlock his stuff and go in the right direction.”

Denlinger's pitching career began at Cuba City High School, located 10 miles away from where the Chicago Bears once trained in Platteville, Wis., and where he also played football and basketball. It included Tommy John surgery and a blown-out knee while working for Madison College.

As for Denlinger’s blacksmith career, it began in 2014 via an initial interest through conversations with people in the field while attending a Native American rendezvous for Father’s Day in Prairie du Chien, Wis., with his father and his older brother, Trent, who played football at the University of Wisconsin. Seven years later, he has a shop right outside his house with a propane forge, a 180-pound anvil and grinders.

“I’ve made double-sided battle axes, swords, tomahawks,” said Denlinger, whose work can be found for purchase at @denlinger_forge on Instagram. “Little railroad-spiked knives, deer antler knives -- I’ve probably made it.”

Custom-made railroad spike bottle openers crafted by Theo Denlinger.@denlinger_forge/Instagram

There was also a time when Denlinger helped his dad’s friend, Henry, build a couple of decks and got to know him as a person. Henry, who Denlinger calls “chief” but actually is a lodge keeper, was so impressed by Theo’s overall being, he adopted him into the Lakota Sioux following a ceremony.

“That rarely ever happens, he told me. They rarely ever let in outsiders,” Denlinger said. “But yeah, he adopted me in. I’ve been very close with him ever since. He’s constantly followed my journey. Followed me and just given me prayers and blessings to help me get along and get through all the hardships I went through.”

Henry, who called Denlinger to congratulate him Tuesday, also gave him a buffalo skull blessed by a Lakota Sioux medicine man, Grover, on his last vision quest done on a mountain. All of these stories add up to the determined yet appreciative personality of Denlinger.

“He said the Buffalo Spirit is with me, and it will continue being with me,” Denlinger said. “It will help me fight through all this adversity and everything that is to come.

“The buffalo is with me and I’m going to bring that to the White Sox, and the buffalo is about to kick the [heck] out of some people. I can’t wait. I’m ready.”