Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mark Hendrickson isn't lighting the American League on fire since being called up Aug. 5, but like Bo Jackson he is blazing a trail few others have traveled.
Hendrickson, the former hoops star at Washington State who played for four NBA teams over five seasons, this month became just the tenth athlete ever to play in both the NBA and the Major Leagues. One of his predecessors in that elite fraternity is fellow Cougar Gene Conley, who earned several NBA titles with the Celtics in the 1960s and also managed to earn a couple of All-Star Game nods as a pitcher for the Red Sox and others.
Unlike the other ten athletes, though, Conley played both sports at the same time.
Hendrickson decided to give baseball a go after the 1998 basketball season. After now, after parts of 3 ½ seasons in the Blue Jays' minor league system, he's in the bigs, getting the call up on August 5. A left-handed pitcher out of the bullpen, he was blasted by the Mariners in his debut the following night but since then has given up just two earned runs in six innings of work.
"I just got up here and that is good, but there is a lot of room for improvement," the 6-foot-9 Hendrickson told CF.C during a swing through Oakland last week. "I'm happy with my progress from last year to this year and hope I can take another giant step. This is only my second full year of playing baseball."
Hendrickson was touted prep baseball and basketball player at Mt. Vernon High in the early 1990s who went to a storied hoops career at WSU, earning All-Pac-10 plaudits twice and etching his name in the top five of just about every career stat list they have in Pullman.
He was drafted six different times over the years by Major League teams before signing with the Blue Jays.
He said it's hard to compare the two sports, especially life in baseball's minor leagues to life in the NBA.
"Basketball is a smaller group of guys and you're able to form a bond with everybody (on the team)," he says. In addition, the scheduling demands in baseball are more formidable. "In basketball you are playing three times a week and there is a lot more time at home. In baseball you are on the road a lot."
Even if Hendrickson doesn't stick, he thinks he'll take satisfaction knowing he's one of the few people to have achieved the pinnacle in two different sports. "I'm in the moment and right now it is who I am, but I think I understand what it means> It's something I've always wanted to do."
Catching up with Hendrickson
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