Cougar streak hinges on Hendrickson

A HEAD-TURNING crimson streak is on the line and the only guy in position to keep it going is out with back problems. All is not lost, though, Cougar fans. While this season -- so far -- is the first since 1947 that a Washington State alum hasn't played in the Major Leagues, the Baltimore Sun's Orioles beat writer tells there's no reason to panic.

Mark Hendrickson, in the midst of a bang-up season for the Orioles' AAA team in Norfolk, has a good shot at extending WSU's streak in the big leagues to 64 seasons. Right now, sitting at 63, WSU's streak is third on the active list behind USC (72) and Oklahoma (66), and tied for fourth on the all-time list.

"Mark is currently on the minor league disabled list with a back injury, but once he recovers, I do think the odds are good that he'll be called up at some point this season," Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun said Friday. "As an organization, the Orioles are very fond of Hendrickson. He's been a total pro, occupying a number of roles for them while providing leadership for many of the organization's young pitchers. He has never complained, not even when he didn't make the team out of spring training. He has also pitched well down in Triple-A Norfolk after getting off to a poor start, which I attribute to him kind of getting over the fact that he didn't make the big league club."

Hendrickson spent nine seasons in the Majors, from 2002 through last season. This spring he chose to accept the Orioles' assignment to Norfolk, rather than seek a spot with another big league club, in order to stay close to his young family in Baltimore.

"The Orioles have been shuttling pitchers back-and forth from Baltimore to the minor leagues and I do think Hendrickson will eventually get an opportunity provided that he stays healthy," says Zrebiec. "And if the Orioles can't find a roster spot for him, it wouldn't surprise me if they found another team with a big league opening interested in Hendrickson, particularly late in the season when rosters expand in September. If that is the case, I don't think the Orioles would stand in the way of Hendrickson getting another shot elsewhere to pitch in the big leagues."

At Norfolk this season, Hendrickson has pitched 41 innings in relief and posted a 2.81 ERA. Opposing hitters are batting just .219 against him. In his last 10 outings he has a 1.01 ERA. Last season with the Orioles, the 6-9 lefty from Mount Vernon appeared in 52 games and posted a 5.16 ERA.

WSU's long streak of players in the big leagues began in 1948 with left-handed pitcher Cliff Chambers, the pride of Bellingham High. He spent six seasons in the Majors with the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals. His best season was 1951 with the Pirates when he won 14 games and fired a no-hitter against the Braves. He was inducted into WSU's sports hall of fame in 1984.

Cougar sharpshooter Klay Thompson, the No. 11 overall pick in this week's NBA draft, became the highest WSU product taken in the draft since Hendrickson went to the Philadelphia 76ers with the 31st pick in 1996. Hendrickson spent four seasons in the NBA before embarking on his baseball career. He is one of only 11 athletes ever to play in both the NBA and the Majors. As fate would have it, one of those other 11 also is a Cougar -- Gene Conley. For a look at Conley's remarkable two-sport career, head to the CF.C archives and the story Cougar baseballers wake the echoes of a legend .

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