It was one of the first days of spring training in Mesa, Ariz. this season where I met Liam Hendriks for the first time.
Director of Baseball Communications Fernanda Alcala introduced me to the Australia native who was sipping on his Starbucks cup of coffee — a sight I had grown accustomed to seeing each time I saw him in the A’s clubhouse … or on a Thursday night in Houston.
Alcala told me he was easy to talk to, and he wasn’t lying. The A’s reliever received the first All-Star selection of his career this season but has remained humble throughout the entire process. Perhaps because before he was the dominant closer in his current state, he was just a guy hoping to find a home after being designated for assignment multiple times: Five to be exact.
“I don’t think I ever doubted myself like, performance-wise, but there are definitely times where I put a ceiling on myself,” Hendriks said during Momentum’s latest installment: “Resiliency: The Road to Becoming an All-Star.”
In the video, Hendriks detailed his journey from wanting to be “an average starter” to becoming one of the most feared pitchers coming out of the bullpen.
The story began with clips from an outing in which he was removed from the second inning of a game while with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 after giving up a walk to Reds’ first baseman Joey Votto.
Hendriks would finish that season with a 6.85 ERA.
Hendriks admitted the few times he was demoted were difficult to handle since in all actuality it was foreign territory — he had never been sent down before. And despite his Triple-A success, the calls for him to return to The Show weren’t happening, at least not for him anyway.
“They kept calling a couple of guys up ahead of me,” Hendriks said.
It was a wakeup call. Perhaps he wasn’t “that guy.” But it was a humbling experience he explained.
Hendriks and his wife Kristi discussed the “what if’s” should this long-time journey not work out. Playing in Korea and Japan were options — so much so, a team had made an offer.
Fast forward to 2015 and Hendriks could be seen soaked in alcohol and wearing a Jays’ postseason-bound t-shirt with goggles atop his head.
He was celebrating.
This celebration was more than enjoying libations with his teammates even though during his interview with Sportsnet, he made it about them.
He was back.
Hendriks would eventually be traded to the A’s for Jesse Chavez following the 2015 season. He once again found himself sporting postseason garb sitting next to Blake Treinen during a press conference a few years later.
When asked how he felt following his journey of times when he didn’t feel quite good enough, Hendriks simply said he was happy to be a part of the team — a typical Hendriks answer.
“Anytime athletes are faced with their own mortality, it can be an earth-shattering, life-altering experience, that frankly, some guys never rebound from,” NBC Sports Calfornia’s Dallas Braden said. “But Hendriks has been there, done that just as much as anyone could go through, so it’s merely a hurdle, and it’s probably the height of a curb in his mind to be designated for assignment. That has no doubt served him as well as it has to transition into the role he’s transitioned into especially on the heels of facing that mortality to the tune of five times.”
Hendriks would earn American League Reliever of the Month honors this season after a June where he boasted a 0.60 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 15 innings. And the secret behind his success? Going back to his original plan.
“I think last year going down and coming back up was huge for me because it gave me the chance of like ‘Look, I need to stop doing what everyone does well — I need to stop thinking about what they can beat me with — I need to start thinking about what I can beat them with,” Hendriks added.
It was a huge mindset for him. He had to get that arrogant streak back, something Hendriks said as a pitcher was important.
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In July, Hendriks became just the third Australian to be selected to a Major League All-Star team.
As the end of the film neared, the music lifted.
This wouldn’t be the last time Hendriks would sport an All-Star uniform … not if he had anything to say about it.