How Liam Hendriks is inspiring his teammates originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
GLENDALE, AZ – Four days into spring training workouts, everything might seem normal on the fields at Camelback Ranch. However, despite what looks and feels like a typical White Sox practice, a giant piece of the active roster is missing, leaving a gaping hole in everybody’s hearts.
Over a month since Liam Hendriks made the announcement on his Instagram page, it’s still difficult to comprehend that the White Sox closer is battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. One of the best relievers in baseball, and the emotional leader on the team has suddenly been sidelined with this dreadful disease.
“It was pretty devastating. I’m not going to lie,” pitcher Lucas Giolito explained when he first heard the news about Hendriks’ condition. “Liam is absolutely a massive part of our team and our family. To see him dealing with a sickness like that just broke my heart.”
With Hendriks undergoing cancer treatments in Arizona, it was unclear if he would be around the White Sox practice facility during spring training.
But as it turns out, he’s been more than a frequent presence. Giolito said that Hendriks has been here “almost every day.” Pitching coach Ethan Katz said he even threw a bullpen session on Friday.
“It’s amazing. It brought a lot of joy to be able to see him. He’s a special person. Having him around is great,” said Katz, holding back tears talking about Hendriks.
“I care about the guy,” he continued. “This guy is unbelievable. He really is. He’ll be back on the field as soon as he can.”
When that will be, nobody knows for sure, but seeing Hendriks in the clubhouse and on a mound despite battling cancer has been an inspiration to everyone.
“To see him coming in day after day in that same exact mood while dealing with something as serious as cancer, it’s pretty damn amazing,” Giolito said. “It serves as motivation for us. You never know what can happen in life. We know that he’s going to be back soon. It is what it is. He’s doing his thing.
Reliever Joe Kelly was a throwing partner with Hendriks this offseason. Three days after his first chemotherapy treatment, he was pleasantly shocked to see Hendriks back playing catch with him again.
“He’s been grinding. He’s one of those guys that can do that sort of thing. He can switch off what troubles he has off the field when he gets on the field, and that’s very hard to do,” Kelly said. “Since he’s been throwing, it’s not going to be too far of a process for him to come back.”
In his absence, manager Pedro Grifol said on Friday that the plan to start the season will be a closer-by-committee approach. They’ll play the matchups “putting strengths against weaknesses,” as he put it, going with the best arm for each particular inning on any given night.
Maybe it’s too early to think about that day when Hendriks makes a triumphant return to the mound for the White Sox. Hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later. But until then, his coaches and teammates are pulling for their fireballer all the way, inspired by the fight they’re witnessing every time he walks through the clubhouse door.
“I will say he’s absolutely killing it right now with his treatments,” Giolito said. “(He’s) in the same exact spirits, the same exact Liam that we all know and love. We’re just looking forward to him kicking cancer’s ass and coming back to close games for us.”
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