Veteran left-hander working on deceptive sidearm delivery at minicamp
By Adam Berry
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The idea of Mark Hendrickson pitching again in the Major Leagues might seem unlikely. He hasn't been in the bigs since 2011, and he spent last year pitching for the independent Atlantic League's York Revolution. There's no guarantee Hendrickson will even make it to Spring Training with the Orioles.
But Hendrickson, 40 years old, showed up for a tryout at the O's minicamp on Monday morning to keep chasing that dream.
Hendrickson played catch and participated in drills with a small group of pitchers, most of them 15 or 20 years younger than him. He threw off the mound in front of pitching coach Dave Wallace, and he plans to do so again on Wednesday.
Most of the players attending minicamp are young and elite pitching prospects. Some are here hoping to improve their shot at a roster spot, and others are recovering from injuries. Having already played for five Major League teams in 10 years -- and four NBA teams during his basketball career -- the 6-foot-9 Hendrickson stands out here as a unique story.
"I still have the desire. To me, it's unfinished business," Hendrickson said. "My path took me to independent ball last year. I learned a lot there. I'm just going to continue to work and get better at what I'm doing with the goal to get up there and really be successful."
Hendrickson earned a non-roster spot in the Orioles' camp two years ago after a similar tryout in Baltimore. He started tinkering with a sidearm delivery around that time, and he's still polishing his mechanics now, even as he looks for a job. Hendrickson said he's focused on staying more upright and making his delivery more deceptive, but his delivery feels more fluid and comfortable now.
Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti noticed the improvement immediately on Monday, Hendrickson said.
"Obviously I have to come down here with a different mindset to just get on the mound," he added. "I think for the most part, they're going to see what they need to see."
Hendrickson said he was humbled by his experience pitching in the independent leagues, especially when he looked around and saw players who would have been thrilled just to pitch in the low Minor Leagues. On the field, he recorded a 1.54 ERA and pitched as a closer for the first time in his professional career.
"If I hadn't seen the progression [in his delivery] between year one and year two, I wouldn't be doing this," Hendrickson said. "I wouldn't be wasting my time. I wouldn't be away from my family, because they all have to commit to this as well. But the progression has been so good that I'm excited about that. That's why I'm excited to get back here and get the opportunity."
The opportunity came about because Hendrickson reached out to Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who suggested that Hendrickson lower his arm slot in the first place. Showalter has said Hendrickson will make a good pitching coach at some point, but Hendrickson isn't quite ready for that -- not yet, at least.
"This is me taking my career by the horns, so to speak, and doing what I need to do," Hendrickson said. "Because realistically, the biggest hurdle for me is getting past the age factor and getting people who are front-office people to not look at age and say, 'Well, forget him.'
"It's about relationships that I have, reaching out to Buck. He's a straight shooter. He's not doing a charity case. If he doesn't think I can help, then I'm not going to be here."
Hendrickson's drive to get back to the Majors received another boost two months ago, when he became a grandfather. As if he wasn't determined enough already.
"How many active grandfathers have been in the big leagues?" Hendrickson said. "Well, that right there is motivation in itself.
"You have to have motivation, and for me, this is like a whole new thing that I took on. I'm as motivated now as I've ever been. Things are a little different. I'm not 22. But the passion's still there. You need that."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.