Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

21 MLB players to watch in 2021: Chicago White Sox pitcher Liam Hendriks

Through the month of March, leading up to MLB Opening Day on April 1,
Sports Spectrum is highlighting 21 Christ-following players to watch in 2021.

After collecting 35 wins in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Chicago White Sox found themselves in the postseason for the first time since 2008. Their .583 winning percentage (35-25) was the organization’s best since 2005, when the White Sox won their third World Series.

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They expected to make a deep October run in 2020, but were instead eliminated by the Oakland A’s in the wild-card round. One of Chicago’s lasting memories from the series will be of A’s closer Liam Hendriks, who pitched in all three games, throwing 105 pitches and striking out 12 White Sox batters over 5.2 innings.

Hendriks is now on the White Sox. After earning 2020 American League Reliever of the Year honors, he became one of Chicago’s top offseason targets, and Hendriks reached a three-year deal with the White Sox in January.

If you can’t beat him, get him on your team.

Hendriks, a 32-year-old Australia native, spent five seasons with Oakland, where he firmly established himself in the majors. He made his first All-Star appearance in 2019, but it came after many up-and-down years.

Hendriks started a career-high 16 games for Minnesota in 2012, but by 2015 with Toronto, he was a full-time reliever. He joined the A’s in 2016 and appeared in a then-career-high 70 games in 2017. In 2019, his All-Star season, he went 4-4 with a 1.80 ERA and 25 saves over a career-high 75 appearances. He earned a spot on the All-MLB second team after that season, and was named to the All-MLB first team for 2020.

A trip back to the minors in 2018 helped him get on track.

“I ended up having pretty bad attitude toward the end of [2018] when I was hurt; got humbled by being designated for assignment and [going back] to Triple-A,” Hendriks said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in April 2019. “I was going back to the grassroots of things and saying, ‘I play this game because I love the game, not because of what I think it should bring me.’ It humbled me a lot. I came back in September [2018] and was able to do well.”

One of three Australian-born players to play in an MLB All-Star Game, Hendriks finished the 2020 regular season with a 1.78 ERA, a career-best 12.3 strikeout-walk ratio, and an MLB-second-best 14 saves in 15 opportunities.

He’s also a Christ-follower who has actively attended team chapels and Bible studies with his fellow players throughout his career. And he regularly gives back to the community around him. Hendriks and his wife, Kristi, are involved in raising awareness and support for humane societies, and most recently have become involved in a program called Blessings In a Backpack, which ensures children 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 on the podcast. “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.”

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

“My first PAO (Pro Athletes Outreach) conference was about 10 days after we got married,” Hendriks said about an annual Christian conference for pro baseball players. “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.”

Liam and Kristi will now seek out similar fellowship in Chicago. And at the same time, the White Sox will lean on Liam to get back to the postseason. After a strong 2020 and now armed with one the best closers in the game, all expectations are that the White Sox will make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.

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