Liam Hendriks is perfect in 1st rehab outing for White Sox and receives ‘emotional’ ovation from fans and both teams

·4 min read

CINCINNATI — The magnitude of the moment wasn’t lost on anyone as Liam Hendriks went through his warmup pitches Friday in Gwinnett, Ga.

The closer, on the road to returning to the Chicago White Sox after battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, heard a PA announcement as he prepared for his first minor league rehab appearance with Triple-A Charlotte.

“Both teams got out and started clapping,” Hendriks said during a video conference call, “which is — don’t get me wrong, it’s really, really nice. I very much appreciate it. It made me very emotional.

“I’m a guy who pitches on anger, and it’s really hard to get angry when you know the other team is full of nice people. So a little tough to get locked in.”

Additionally, he had to contend with wet field conditions.

“I slipped on the first pitch and then had to finagle my mechanics a little bit just to make sure I was getting down there all right,” Hendriks said.

The fact that Hendriks was back on the field so soon after publicly announcing the diagnosis in January shows he wasn’t going to let those obstacles stand in his way.

Hendriks went on to pitch a perfect relief inning for the Knights.

“A clean inning is a clean inning, and with a strikeout, so that’s always good,” he said.

Hendriks has been on the injured list since the beginning of the season while undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He announced on April 20 he was cancer-free after completing chemotherapy on April 5.

The right-hander entered Friday’s game in the seventh. He got a popout, a strikeout and a groundout. Hendriks appreciated some of the nostalgic aspects of Friday.

“It’s getting into the routine,” he said. “It’s just doing the same thing that I normally do where I will eat an hour before the game, and then go through the pregame routine where I’m in the hot tub and the shower and putting everything on the same for the first time I really had the chance.

“(Getting on the mound in) Arizona (leading up to the rehab assignment) was great but I didn’t have the chance to go through the full plethora of things I normally do to get me locked in. So going through that, and as cheesy as it sounds, warming up my coffee that I bough earlier to warm up. I walked across the field and it was like ‘Now I’m back to where I’m at.’ ”

And he’ll long remember the reception he received prior to getting the outs.

“It was a very pro move and I will be forever grateful for that, Hendriks said. “It was a little weird, but now as my wife (Kristi) said, it’s a pre-run. You hopefully can get used to it and now you know, this is how I’m going to feel, this is what I’m going to do and this is how I’m going to get locked back in.

“They may be clapping, after one pitch they may be screaming a little bit, and they may get back to somewhat despising me again.”

Hendriks said the tribute took him by surprise.

“I was having this conversation with my wife the other day, I don’t kind of quite get it, but she’s like ‘You have to understand how big this is for a lot of people, for a lot of people going through this,’ ” Hendriks said. “This is more about then oh, you missed six weeks. It’s more about you overcoming something extreme and then what you getting back on a mound so quickly represents to a lot of people who are going through this right now.

“That’s something you really have to reflect on. It’s a lot bigger than just me. 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. 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.”

With one outing in the books, Hendriks turns his attention to what’s next: pitching again Sunday.

“We’ll play it by ear as it goes,” Hendriks said of the schedule. “Hopefully it’s a little bit smoother in my next outing. But for right now, I’m just excited to be here, excited to be a part of the team.

“There’s a plan in place. But as you know with all these rehab assignments, it’s written in pencil, never in pen.”