‘Truly a remarkable accomplishment’: Liam Hendriks’ return is an inspiration for the Chicago White Sox

Tribune Content Agency

Kristi Hendriks knew before her husband, Liam, started chemotherapy that he would return to the pitching mound for the Chicago White Sox.

“That was his saving grace,” Kristi said Monday. “He said: ‘I’m going to play again if it takes me four rounds, if it takes me six rounds, if it goes more, if it goes less. I’m just going to do that because I need to do that for myself.’

“And then when all the fan support got behind him, it was 100% a moment of ‘I’m doing this for the city of Chicago.’”

The White Sox reinstated Liam Hendriks from the injured list Monday before their game against the Los Angeles Angels. It was a remarkable return for the closer who announced in January he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Hendriks tipped his cap to the crowd and teared up during a ceremony at Guaranteed Rate Field that recognized the more than $100,000 raised through the sale of “Close Out Cancer” T-shirts. The shirts allowed fans to show support during his fight, with the net proceeds benefiting the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

Hendriks has been an inspiration throughout the organization.

“It’s truly a testament to his hard work and commitment the fact that we’re even having this conversation in May,” general manager Rick Hahn said before Monday’s game. “When we got the initial prognosis, I don’t think anyone would have been shocked if the response to a Stage 4 lymphoma diagnosis was we weren’t going to see the guy pitch this year. Or if we initially announced he’s going to be gone till at least the All-Star break, I don’t think anyone would have batted an eye with that timeline.

“But Liam and his wife, Kristi, from the start were committed to getting back as quickly as humanly possible.”

That return became official Monday.

“I think the May timeline that he had in his own mind throughout was a bit of a motivator for him,” Hahn said, “and something, I think, could hopefully serve as a motivator to others who are suffering through similar diagnoses. Truly a remarkable accomplishment by Liam and by Kristi and by all those involved in the rehabilitation to getting him back.”

Hendriks did some baseball work during spring training while undergoing treatment.

“I was there with him in Arizona, kind of through the buildup, through a lot of the chemo treatments,” reliever Garrett Crochet said. “For him to be where he is now, it’s just awesome to witness.”

Hendriks announced April 20 that he was cancer-free. After a stint with Triple-A Charlotte and three live batting practice sessions with the Sox, he was once again available out of the bullpen.

“He was very clear that part of his motivation was to get back as quickly as possible, and he didn’t want to rule out the first two months of the season,” Hahn said. “He was able to do so much while getting treatment — it did hit him for a few days, as it would anybody — but the fact that he was able to maintain somewhat of a throwing schedule and was occasionally off a mound and was able to long toss and be by the complex, he never really atrophied his base down all the way to zero.

“And that allowed him to come back, once he was cleared, over the course of five or six weeks, which is awfully remarkable.”

The Sox took a close look at the work when deciding Monday was the right time to return.

“It was looking at the information and the numbers and how he pitched and the command and everything, how he recovered,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “That’s why we couldn’t make decisions on that particular day. We had to wait and see how he recovered the next day and how he felt. We put our heads together and this was the right time.”

The Sox have a three-time All-Star back. But that’s not all.

“This is bigger than baseball,” Grifol said. “This is about life and the diagnosis and the comeback and how he did it. And how good he was prior to and how good he’s going to be afterward.”

Kristi said Liam was excited Monday morning.

“Going back to (Sunday) night, he watched the video produced by the White Sox … where everyone was saying, ‘Welcome back, Liam,’ and he cried,” she said. “And he has not cried in this journey at all. Even when he rang the bell (after finishing chemotherapy), he got a little choked up. But when he saw that his teammates were really rooting for him and they were so excited he was back, he got very emotional.

“(Monday) he was excited and he was nervous. I take nervous as a really good competitive spirit. You are really only nervous when you care about something. So I’m excited for him.”