CHICAGO — While he’s pitched in a few games since, including getting the win for the White Sox on Sunday, there may never be anything like Memorial Day 2023 at Guaranteed Rate Field for the closer.
From the pregame ceremony to his walk to the bullpen to the light show rock entrance to the mound to the standing ovation he received, it was a true moment in time for Liam Hendriks.
From Stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January to a major league appearance before June, it was something to behold.
“I’m very grateful,” said Hendriks to WGN News Now of the reception he got that first night as he returned to the White Sox after beating cancer. “I knew something was going to happen, but just the plethora of messages and people stopping on the street, the whole thing on Monday night was insane.
“It was a lot more than I expected.”
By his side that night and his entire battle with cancer has been his wife Kristi, who was there to take part in the pregame ceremony before joining the others in the stands to cheer his return.
“This week has been extremely emotional, extremely surreal,” Hendriks said. “It has been uplifting, it has been powerful, it has been just pretty incredible, honestly, to be on the other side of the cancer journey.”
But the celebrations of his return to the White Sox weren’t contained to Guaranteed Rate Field in a week of celebration, reflection and advocacy for the couple that successfully navigated the road to beat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The love that Liam and Kristi felt this past week extended to an event he attended in downtown Chicago on Thursday evening for an organization that both the closer and his wife became very close to the past six months.
The Hendriks were the guest of honor at the Lymphoma Research Foundation’s fundraiser that, in part, saluted their contributions to the organization.
“It meant so much to our patients to see Liam battle lymphoma, come out on the other side as a thriver as he told us on Monday night, just means the world to them,” said Meghan Gutierrez, the CEO of the Lymphoma Research Foundation. “It’s inspirational, and I think it’s given our entire community hope.”
This became one of the key components for the Hendriks when Liam was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma around the new year. Liam, who joined the White Sox in 2021, announced his diagnosis publically on January 8 and began treatments the next day.
Very quickly, he along with Kristi were eager to help others that were undertaking the battle he was just beginning.
“Obviously cancer’s not the best thing you can get, but there’s always a way to turn it around. There’s always a silver lining,” Liam Hendriks said. “For us it was, ‘OK, I’ve got this. I’ve got somewhat of a public figure, how can we make this a good thing?’
“The LRF was something that caught our eye straight away.”
Kristi Hendricks was quickly on board and the pair began their work as he began the first of what would be four chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I think that it really helped us connect to a community that we really didn’t understand,” Kristi Hendriks said. “I love what LRF does, the research side of everything for lymphoma is just huge for my husband. That’s partially why my husband was able to recover so quickly.”
Joining the Lymphoma Research Foundation had an impact on that organization in a few ways, thanks to his stature as a successful MLB ballplayer along with the couple’s desire to help.
Gutierrez pointed to a number of people dealing with lymphoma around the country and world who reached out to the organization since the beginning of 2023 after hearing Hendriks’ story.
“His efforts along with the White Sox organization to support the Lymphoma Research Foundation, and specifically our patient aid grant program, I think has also shed a light on the financial hardships that so many people facing a cancer diagnosis are going through,” Gutierrez said.
The couple along with the White Sox had a joint effort with a “Close Out Cancer” t-shirt sale that raised money for the Lymphoma Research Foundation. The Hendricks presented a check for $104,189 check to that organization on Monday ahead of his debut.
It was a moment of reflection for Kristi Hendricks, who was there to support him during his cancer fight but also trying to aid others dealing with the same thing.
“We really needed to step out of our shell and seeing people react the way they did to Liam’s cancer diagnosis made us want to show up even more for other people going through it,” she said. “Because I truly don’t believe that you understand what people are going through it yourself.”
Meanwhile, Liam Hendriks is back on the mound, looking to return to All-Star form, which he’s had in his first two seasons in a White Sox. On Sunday, he picked up his first win thanks to pitching a perfect ninth inning, doing so on National Cancer Survivors Day.
“It’s raising awareness, it’s having events like this, it’s making sure that you reach a wider audience. It’s not just the same people every time,” he said. “You can bring in some new blood, some new funding, per se, and really spread the word and make sure that people are on board. The more research, the more funding the research gets, the better the research gets, and the closer to a cure we get.”
Larry Hawley has more in his interview with Liam and Kristi Hendriks along with Guiterrez in an emotional week in Chicago from WGN News Now in the video above.