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Anticipation built in Chicago’s South Side as 23,599 fans rose to their feet, awaiting the return of a true fighter. The scoreboard illuminated the name of the White Sox’ beloved closer, Liam Hendriks, for the first time in the 2023 season. Five months after his diagnosis of stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hendriks emerged a survivor.

Only one month after ringing the bell to signify his final chemotherapy treatment, Hendriks was back on the mound in a MLB game. His rapid return to the field was no accident—the secret: Hendriks never stopped working.

“You know the old saying, a body in motion stays in motion,” Hendriks says. “I took that to heart, and I kept moving.”

Through many exhausting nights of treatment, Hendriks worked to stay active. He walked to get his coffee. He walked his dogs. And he made time to go to the field. Perhaps unsurprising given his work ethic, Hendriks is not satisfied by just returning to the mound.

“I've gone through the stages of mediocrity. I've gone through the stages of being the best on the field. I’ve been through the ups and downs,” he says. “I know that even if I'm not physically 100 percent, I can will myself to be the best on that field. That's the way I need to attack everything.”

While the MLB community celebrated his return to the mound with the Triple A Charlotte Knights in May, Hendriks was frustrated. His 10.80 ERA through nine innings was much worse than his 2.81 mark in the majors last season, and his return to the White Sox was delayed by elbow inflammation that placed him on the 15-day injured list.

And while the 34-year-old closer will do whatever he can to return to All-Star form, he looks beyond baseball, too. While he might still save space for a World Series trophy, Hendriks is happy with his 14-year MLB career to date. Battling cancer put baseball into perspective.

“I've accomplished almost everything I've ever wanted to accomplish,” Hendriks says. “My goal moving forward is trying to help that next person out, and that's something that I take a lot more pride in than anything I do on the field.”

Long used to answering questions about being an Australian-born player in America’s Pastime, Hendriks does not mind repeated questions about his cancer battle and committed road back.

“What’s 15, 25, 30 seconds to help fill someone up? I want to let people know they’re not alone. So if I say the same thing 15 times—but it’s that one story that connects to someone—I've done something.”

Hendriks has always been one to give others the extra minute. In a rain delay against the Orioles last year, he was in the corner of the bullpen signing autographs and talking to fans for well over an hour. When negotiating a contract with the White Sox, he made sure that they would hold a Pride Night and took it on himself to raise the pride flag at Guaranteed Rate Field. On the red carpet at the All-Star Game, he managed to redirect almost every question back to his wife and what she was wearing.

But now, Hendriks’s platform is even bigger as an encouraging figure to all going through tough times, whether it be cancer or any other struggle. As the 2023 Jimmy V Award for Perseverance recipient, he views his role not as an option but as a responsibility.

“It’s a responsibility that I take on full heartedly. I'm not one to just slink into the shadows and do it that way,” Hendriks said. “This happened to me and I'm going to make something positive out of it. There are a lot of people out there going through a lot worse things than I am. There's no point in me sitting here and complaining because I've got relatively easy compared to a lot of guys.”

Hendriks's MLB journey is not over. He is working his way back to full health and ready to take on the challenge of returning to the Hendriks that batters feared. But in the meantime, he is more than an athlete;. He’s an inspiration.

“Don't accept average,” he says. “Don't be afraid to be unique.”

In the four games following his 2023 season debut, Hendriks had a 2.25 ERA and held batters to a .077 average with two wins and a save before his injury time off. Liam Hendriks is certainly not average.