Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Mark Hendrickson spent much of the late 1990s
and 2000 shuffling between professional homes. His journey began in Philadelphia, but after one season, he found himself in
northern California. Then in between stops in the minor leagues, he surfaced briefly in the New York area, and finally, in
The difference between Hendrickson and the dozens of journeyman pitchers
out there is that he did not spend that time working on new ways to get major league hitters out. Instead, he was trying to
stop Shaquille O'Neal in the low post.
After leading Mount Vernon High School (WA) to state titles in baseball
and basketball in 1992, Mark Hendrickson had a decision to make: sign with the Atlanta Braves, who drafted him in the 12th
round of the June draft, or attend Washington State University on a basketball scholarship. He chose the latter.
Although Hendrickson took the college route, baseball teams kept on drafting
him (in 1993 it was San Diego, then the Braves again in '94, followed by Detroit in 1995). Meanwhile, in his four years at
WSU, the 6'9" pitcher/forward was named to both the baseball and basketball All Conference teams. After graduating in 1996,
Hendrickson was chosen by Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the NBA draft. Of course, he was also selected in the
baseball draft, this time by the Texas Rangers in the 19th round.
Hendrickson decided to keep his focus on basketball, and signed with Philadelpia.
He appeared in 29 games with the 76ers during the 1996-97 season, and played semipro baseball during the offseason. In June
of 1997, he was selected in the baseball draft for the sixth and final time by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 20th round.
Despite the interest of several teams, Hendrickson says he never considered
signing with a pro baseball team during his collegiate career. "After high school I decided that I wanted to go to college
and play basketball and so I didn't sign," the left-hander explained. "The years after that it was kind of just more teams
picking up my rights. Nothing was really pursued until the second time with Atlanta and then with Toronto.
"The timing wasn't right -- being in college -- I was always afraid that
if I signed with a pro club and they wanted me to play full time, I would be pretty much obligated to do that, I wanted to
control what I did and dictate when I did it, so that was pretty much why I didn’t sign."
After spending most of the 1997-98 season on the Sacramento Kings bench,
Hendrickson began to warm up to idea of playing pro baseball. "The Blue Jays followed me after my first year on the Sixers
while playing semipro (baseball)," he said. "We worked out a contract after my second year (in the NBA) when I was with Sacramento.
I was able to play (baseball) just in the summer and did that for three years."
Hendrickson made his pro debut on the diamond in the summer of 1998 with
the Class A Dunedin Blue Jays before returning to the hardcourt with the CBA's LaCrosse Catbirds, and eventually, the New
Jersey Nets. Then it was back to baseball with Double A Knoxville for the summer of 1999.
The 1999-2000 NBA season was a frustrating one for the journeyman forward.
He signed a 10 day contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 27, but was released a month later. With that, Hendrickson's
NBA days were over. Now, baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays would have his full attention.
Because he devoted so much time to basketball, Hendrickson had a lot to
learn about life as a full time pitcher. "I was always around baseball," he commented, "but what a lot of people don’t
realize, and what I didn’t realize is that I didn’t put in the time and dedication into knowing how to get my
arm into shape, how to take care of it, and how to pitch on a regular basis. So, basically this is my fourth year of learning
how to do it."
Playing hoops at its highest level did, however, have its' advantages,
"Pro sports are pretty similar when it comes to the mental side and everything you have to deal with on and off the field,"
the 30-year-old explained. "There's a lot of maturity that I developed (playing basketball). That’s been an advantage
to me as I’ve made the transition (to baseball)."
Hendrickson split the 2000 season between Dunedin and Double A Tennessee
before moving up to Triple A Syracuse in 2001. On August 6, 2002, after spending the first four months of the season in Syracuse,
the Washington native made his major league debut against Seattle. He became just the tenth man to play in the major leagues
and the NBA.
In 2003, his first full big league season, Hendrickson went 9-9 with a
5.51 ERA for Toronto. Following the season, he was dealt to Tampa Bay in a three team trade. After getting off to a shaky
start in 2004, the former NBAer had settled into his role and become one of the D-Rays more reliable starting pitchers.
"I am always trying to improve," the lanky hurler said. "Most importantly
I am just getting better with my pitches and my stamina and getting more consistent. I just want to take it to the next level."
Because he didn't play baseball full time until he was 26, it is tempting
to wonder what kind of pitcher Hendrickson would be today had he never pursed his hoop dreams. "I don't have any regrets,"
Hendrickson said of his basketball career. "A lot of guys come up and wish they would have pursued some things a little further.
I understand that I am little bit farther behind when it comes to development, but that's probably an upside. Hopefully now,
with some maturity, I can have a quicker learning curve."
Being the first man in 20 years to play in both leagues, Hendrickson offers
a unique perspective on the NBA and MLB.