Liam Hendriks

Why Liam and Kristi Hendriks are the easiest people to root for

Liam Hendriks and his wife Kristi appeared on MLB Network's "MLB Central" Tuesday.

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There’s always been something to love about Liam Hendriks beyond the surface.

Of course a rambunctious philanthropist with the mouth of a sailor and a heart of gold is destined to be a fan-favorite, but maybe it’s the paradox of his being that draws us in.

Boisterous but blunt. Overzealous yet zen. Passionately angry and positively level.

Hendriks is the yin to his own yang.

And it was the discovery of this persona that changed his life in 2018.

Hendriks and his wife Kristi joined MLB Network’s “MLB Central” Tuesday to talk about his journey through Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and how his mentality on the mound relates to his mentality through treatment.

“You can pretty much track my career and look at the process of when I started attacking guys is when I started kind of turning my career around a little bit,” Hendriks said. “If I’m gonna go out, I’m gonna go out on my terms. And the way I wanna do it is I wanna throw as far as I can. I wanna see what I can do and I wanna leave this thing with no regrets.”

Around that time is when he started seeing Kristi’s tarot reader, Ruby Rious, in an attempt to transform his mental approach.

It worked. Hendriks was an All-Star the following season.

It seemed he found a superpower in a perfect storm of aggression and acceptance. He would need it down the road for a much greater purpose.

On “MLB Central,” Kristi described the moment she learned of her husband’s cancer diagnosis.

“It was December 7,” she said. “I was sitting at the dining room and he called me, and I just cried because you don’t expect your 33-year-old husband to be diagnosed with cancer.”

Hendriks, though, saw it as another opportunity to use his superpower — to fight and yield at the same time.

“Look, I'm not gonna sit there and wallow in misery and say, ‘Why me, why me, why me?’ he said. Out of all the people I know, I feel like I'm emotionally equipped to deal with something like this, and it’s a ‘Why not me? What can we do to make this a positive thing?’

“And now we’re on the tour of making sure that I can come back and get some publicity and all this sort of stuff to raise awareness for adolescent and young adult cancer.”

Advocating for others has been a huge part of Hendriks' career. A two-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee, he and Kristi boast a long list of community projects and donations, which includes founding the South Slydah Society — a meal delivery program that’s donated over 1,400 meals from local, minority owned restaurants to frontline workers across Chicagoland.

“You’re only granted a platform once in your life, and if we don’t use it, what’s the point?” Kristi told NBC Sports Chicago in 2022.

While many, if not most, athletes give back monetarily to their communities and support important causes, Kristi and her husband know that being an outspoken, public advocate can be just as important.

That’s why Hendriks made sure the White Sox had an annual “Pride Night” at the ballpark before signing a contract, he told James Fegan of The Athletic. He didn’t want to play for a team without one.

“We just feel like everyone deserves the love,” Kristi told NBC Sports Chicago when asked about their activism in the LGBTQ+ community. “So we just decided, hey, let’s be the true allies that we say we are, and let’s just kind of do it right.”

Getting Stage 4 cancer was simply the luck of the draw, but perhaps a bit of good karma sped up a successful treatment and recovery process. Though, Hendriks said ringing the celebratory bell at the end of his chemotherapy was the most emotional part.

“I understand the gravity of what I went through and what a lot of people are going through,” he said.

Hendriks explained that the bell wasn’t even installed until the morning he finished treatment. The hospital doesn’t want the ringing of the bell to discourage patients who don’t know when or if their treatment will end.

“It really puts it in perspective that a lot of people are going through something a lot worse than I did,” he said. “And if we can raise any sort of awareness and funding, and push forward so that they can push towards an end date, that’s something that’ll pay dividends for the rest of human history.”

Maybe it’s the cussing, or the funny postgame sound bites or simply his talent on a brown lump of dirt that makes Hendriks so easy to root for.

But it might just be simply because he and Kristi are good people.

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