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A's closer Liam Hendriks leads MLB in saves as he leverages platform for Christ

As the 60-game sprint known as the 2020 MLB season comes to an end in nine days, teams are jockeying for playoff position in the expanded 16-team field.

If the season ended today, the Oakland Athletics would be the No. 3 seed. The AL West-leading A’s have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with one win as they prepare to host a weekend series against the San Francisco Giants. On the A’s roster is perhaps the best closer in baseball, Liam Hendriks.

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The 31-year-old Hendriks, who bounced back and forth between the majors and minors for years, is now in his 10th major-league season and fifth in Oakland. Even with a dramatically shortened schedule, 2020 may be his best yet. The Australian native is leading all of Major League Baseball in saves this season with 13, and his ERA sits at 1.23, the lowest of his career.

Hendriks had hit a low point in Triple-A in 2018, as he wondered whether he would ever find a permanent role in the big leagues. He adjusted his mental approach to the game, thinking less about things like scouting reports and relaxing more on the mound.

“That’s the confidence you need — to have that thing where nobody’s too big, nobody’s better than you, and going out there and proving it,” Hendriks told ESPN last week.

By the end of 2018, Hendriks was back in the majors and showcasing a dominant pitching performance in the A’s AL wild-card game.

Hendriks, who switched from starter to relief pitcher, spent the entire 2019 season in the the majors with continued success. He inserted himself into the conversation about the best closer in baseball as he earned his first All-Star appearance and a spot on the All-MLB second team.

A’s manager Bob Melvin told ESPN, “Going from a starter, understanding what you need to do as a reliever — the long relief, short relief, and then the most prominent role in a bullpen, which is closing … he took to it about as well as anybody I’ve seen that hasn’t really done a whole lot of that.”

Hendriks signed a one-year, $5.3 million deal with Oakland in January. And even as he continues to pile up gaudy pitching stats, Hendriks has seen a new opportunity present itself.

“I am in a position where I can affect people in a positive or negative way, and I want it to be positive,” Hendriks told ESPN.

Hendriks and his wife, Kristi, donated money to help people affected by the wildfires in Australia earlier this year. In early April, the couple donated meals to 100 Oakland Police Department workers as well as officers in the nearby Alameda department and several fire stations. They also filmed a message of thanks for essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

For Hendriks, his desire to spread positivity in people’s lives stems from his relationship with Christ. He is a two-time guest of the Sports Spectrum Podcast, once in April 2019 and once in May 2020.

Hendriks explained that he grew up attending Catholic schools, but he fell away from the faith once he came to America. He credits Kristi with encouraging him to get back into the Church.

“My first PAO (Pro Athletes Outreach) conference was about 10 days after we got married,” Hendriks said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast. “We didn’t really go on a honeymoon; we did the PAO thing as our honeymoon. Since then, it’s been a big part of our lives. We have regular Bible studies on the field. We have a good group of believers on the team.”

Hendriks actively attends the A’s team chapel, has Bible studies with his fellow players and gives back regularly to the community around him. He and Kristi became involved in a program called Blessings In a Backpack, which ensures children who are dependent on their schools for food have plenty to eat each weekend.

“You look at all the references through the Bible, of Jesus giving back,” Hendriks said. “Giving what you can, doing what you can, [is important]. Not too many people have a similar platform as athletes … I’m going to use my platform, I’m going to make sure people know they can use theirs. I want to be known … not only for what I do on the field, but what I do off the field and do in people’s lives.”

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