By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There were times when Liam Hendriks felt as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Every time the 26-year-old right-hander took the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays this season, he knew he was representing Canada, feeling the entire country’s support behind him with each bout of success. Hendriks was also the only Australian-born player to remain in the big leagues for the whole year, wearing the Southern Cross on his sleeve with every outing.
In those outings, Hendriks had much more success than anything else, going 5-0 out of the Blue Jays bullpen with a 2.92 ERA in 58 games and 64 2/3 innings in the regular season. He walked just 11 batters, striking out 71. In the playoffs, he made it into three games, including one stellar appearance in Toronto.
The Aussie came on in relief early in Game 4 of the ALCS, looking to save some arms in an eventual 14-2 Kansas City blowout. He threw 4 1/3 innings – after never even stretching to two frames during the regular season – allowing just one hit and striking out two. He didn’t allow a base on balls throughout the entire post-season.
But there were some ups and downs during the year, and Hendriks felt them probably more than he should have, with two countries and his home continent watching and following every move he made, good or bad.
“It has its challenges,” he said. “Obviously you want to go out there and put your best foot forward at all times and there’s a lot more scrutiny if you don’t do the best you can, but it’s exciting. I think I read somewhere that I’m the fifth Australian to make the playoffs, so that’s something.
“But hopefully I’ll be the second Australian to get a World Series ring in the next few years. [Fellow Perth native] Graeme Lloyd’s got a couple [with the Yankees] and hopefully I can get a couple in the next couple years. We’ve got the team, we’ve got the talent to do it, and we’ve got a lot of young guys who are going to be around for a while.”
Hendriks saw the city of Toronto respond to what the team was doing in an incredibly positive way, and quickly realized that baseball had jumped to the forefront in a hockey nation. Everyone was always watching, and couldn’t have been more on board behind the squad that ended the longest playoff drought in professional sports, heading to the post-season for the first time in 22 years.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I mean I came from Minnesota where, don’t get me wrong the fans are great there, but you walk around here and people know who you are. It’s exciting [and] the fans here, they do a good job.
“They’re not overly aggressive coming at you and it’s just a great city. It’s a hockey town, they know how to cheer, they know how to cheer on their guys, and it’s a lot of fun. So hopefully we can be here for another, reward them with what we did this year and hopefully go further next year.”
In a season that saw a lot of excitement for his team, the best moment for Hendriks was a very personal one, and it came during a road trip at the end of August. For the first and only time since the native of Western Australia has been in the big leagues, his father got to see him pitch.
“He made the trek from Perth and came to the Anaheim and Texas series when we were out there,” Hendriks said. “It was a good chance there to catch up with him. I don’t see him as much as I’d like to, but he got to see me play this year which was pretty exciting, and we’ll talk about trying to get them out next year as well.”
There were too many special moments on the field to count, and Hendriks was impressed with the way his squad stuck together from start to finish. From the beginning they believed they were going to be successful, and that feeling only got stronger as the season moved along.
“There are a couple games that I remember, but for the most part it’s just a collective thing,” he said. “We went out there and did what we needed to do, and as a group we did really well for the most part. Obviously coming back in the Texas series was huge. We never stopped believing that we could do it in this series [against Kansas City] either.
“Obviously it didn’t happen but there were no doubters in our group from Day 1 to the end. We knew we had the talent in this room, unfortunately it didn’t play out [in the end]. We played a great team in the Royals and it didn’t work out, but we had a great year and we can hopefully work off this one.”
Not everyone will return to Toronto, but there’s no doubt that every man who played a part in the year will remember it for a very long time. Whether or not team chemistry can be considered a valid factor in finding success, the Blue Jays are a team that had it and they enjoyed every moment they had together.
“It’s a good group of guys,” Hendriks said. “We meshed early but there were a couple pieces missing, and we went out and got them at the deadline, and pretty much after the all-star break we came back with that new energy, that drive to just push ourselves a little bit further. Everyone on the team – if you look at everybody’s numbers – everybody’s numbers went up in the second half, and it’s a tribute to the coaching staff, they did a great job.
“I mean, the new additions definitely helped. They meshed extremely well in our clubhouse and that’s the biggest thing. We had really good team chemistry this this year and it sucks the way it ended but it happens, and now we can just focus on next year and look forward to that.”