As the IronBirds have progressed about halfway through their 2017 campaign, we sat down with their pitching coach, Mark Hendrickson, who has led the IronBirds pitching staff to a 3.32 earned run average so far this season-good for 4th best in the New York-Penn League.
Mark Hendrickson was a multi-sport athlete, having played professional basketball and baseball. Standing at 6'9", Hendrickson spent his time in the NBA playing for the Philadelphia 76ers alongside Allen Iverson as well as for the Sacramento Kings, New Jersey Nets, and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Following his basketball career, Hendrickson chose to pursue another long-term option: baseball. In high school, Mark was drafted by the Atlanta Braves but turned the offer down to attend college. Years down the road, his major league debut was with the Blue Jays and his career continued with the Rays, Dodgers, Marlins, and Orioles. With such a diverse athletic background, Hendrickson reflects on the unique experiences that have shaped the way he will coach the IronBirds.
What was it like playing in the NBA in the 90s?
It was a fun time; getting the opportunity to play in that league was tremendous, I really enjoyed it. It was nice to compete against some of the idols I watched growing up. I was fortunate enough to play against the Chicago Bulls during their second three-peat-it was probably the greatest ensemble of talent that I've ever seen in any profession. Even in the MLB facing the good Red Sox and Yankees teams, nothing has compared to this Bulls team in the late 90s. That was a great learning experience for me.
Who were some of the players you did not want to face in the paint?
Shaquille O'Neal, without a doubt - he was a freak of nature, and probably the biggest human being I've ever seen as far as height, body weight, and athleticism is concerned. Then there was Karl Malone and Charles Oakley with the Knicks. Those guys were men amongst boys. It is hard to explain to people how big they were. I often say basketball players are the most talented athletes in the world just because to really understand the size of these players you need to sit courtside and see up close how freakishly big they are.
How big of a factor do you believe maturity is with professional sports?
If I would have signed out of high school with the Braves, I don't know what kind of career I'd have had. College taught me a lot: time management, responsibility, putting in work in the weight room, on the court, in the classroom. A lot can be learned through four years of college and I believe this a huge help to the way athletes develop. Most kids coming into the minors are 18-22 years old and go through a development period whereas going right to the majors from high school would be asking a lot for their age.
Over the course of your baseball career, were there any players you played alongside that served as a mentor to you?
Roy Halladay is a great example because he faced adversity in his own career. He had to reinvent himself back in the minor leagues. The thing with Roy, which is also something I preach to starting pitchers, is even if he gave up a couple runs, he always got control of the game back. He didn't let two runs turn into four or five and he would always go deep into games. That's ultimately a key to success-starters going deep into games-because everyone else will fall into line afterward. He was very good at that.
Greg Maddux is another example with his pitch efficiency. He would force contact early by throwing around the plate. I tell my players, do yourself a favor and be more efficient with your pitchers. Don't be afraid of contact and let the hitter dictate the at-bat. Know who you are as a pitcher, play to your strengths, and have respect for the hitter but don't let them dictate how and what we throw.
What do you believe young pitchers need to work on the most?
These kids have focused so much on their physical development; a lot of things I preach is the mental side of pitching and sports as it's usually the last area to be developed. My job as their coach is to give them as many tools and resources as I can from my career in both the NBA and MLB to hopefully develop them all around-not just as pitchers. We can go out and win every ball game but the most important service as a coach is to progress them as pitchers. Every pitcher on the Aberdeen staff has a lot of talent but still needs to develop because of where they are in their careers. There's a fine line in the minor leagues: you want to win, you want to preach winning and teach winning, but you also want to teach that you've got to have the discipline to continue to develop. In a game, it's important to have the confidence to work on some of the things we have been implementing outside the diamond.
What is your main goal as pitching coach?
The beauty of this game is we will never perfect it. That to me is exciting because there is always room for improvement. The key I want to stress with the young guys is don't always be so critical of yourself as a pitcher. There needs to be positive reinforcement, enthusiasm, and the excitement to continue to work and make adjustments. In the big leagues, it's a constant game of adjustments for both the hitter and the pitcher as you begin to face players repeated times. That's what I am trying to instill in these young guys, getting them the foundation they need for both short- and long-term success.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.