Baseball has taken Liam Hendriks all over the world. Along the way, his travels have opened his eyes to the plights of people and animals in need. The Oakland A’s 2017 Roberto Clemente Award and Marvin Miller Award nominee and Dave Stewart Community Service Award winner has dedicated a significant portion of his time towards helping those in need.
A native of Australia, Hendriks has played professional baseball in his home country, the United States and Canada. However, it was a winter league season in the Dominican Republic that spurred him to action. During the 2014 off-season, Hendriks suited up for the Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League. Hendriks says he and his wife, Kristi, loved every minute of their experience in the Dominican, but they also saw first-hand the devastating effects of poverty on the island, where clean drinking water can be a scarce resource.
This spring training, Hendriks learned of an organization called Food for the Hungry, an international relief and development organization with operations in more than 20 countries. Through Food for the Hungry, Hendriks joined Striking Out Poverty, an initiative working to improve water infrastructure, install water purification systems, build community centers, implement sports programs and revitalize baseball fields, and offer training to local leadership and farmers in the Dominican Republic.
As part of Striking Out Poverty, Hendriks has asked for pledges for each strike-out he records this season. Through Sunday, Hendriks had raised more than $46,000 this season.
“We met with them in spring training and teed it up and it was put into motion pretty quickly,” Hendriks said. “I’m up to roughly 38 pledges so that every time I get a strike-out, it’s about $630. It gives you a little bit extra drive to strike someone out because you know it is all going to a good cause.”
Hendriks says the money goes towards setting up programs that help to provide clean drinking water and food to those in need in various under-privileged communities in the Dominican Republic.
“The good thing about the program that we are working with is that it is self-sustaining,” Hendriks said. “They get in and stay for a period to be sure that everything is flowing smoothly and they will teach the locals what they need to do and then they will get out so that the locals will have a sense of responsibility that they can handle these things themselves and are able to self-sustain. We are there to help with the initial efforts and from then on, it’s Dominicans helping Dominicans and that’s the way I think it works well. I think you get that sense of community.”
Over the years, Hendriks has played with several teammates who are from the Dominican, including Francisco Pena, son of legendary catcher Tony Pena. The younger Pena is a close friend of Hendriks and was one of the biggest reasons Hendriks played in the Dominican in 2014. Tony Pena owns a water company in the Dominican and Hendriks says spending time with the Penas that winter opened his eyes to the water crisis on the island.
“[The Penas’ company] sells bottled water, but they started to make and produce bagged water, which means they don’t have the cost of the bottles and the production for bottling or anything like that,” Hendriks said. “It’s remarkably cheaper, so they were doing their part to try to help the water crisis in the Dominican. It spurred something inside of me.”
Hendriks says the efforts of Striking Out Poverty have been well received by his Dominican teammates.
“We have guys who have come through it and they have come from the Dominican and know exactly what is going on and talking to them about it, they were pretty pumped that someone else other than a Dominican guy is trying to look out for them,” Hendriks said. “I think the more people you can get together, the more chance you have for success.”
Hendriks says several members of the baseball community have gotten involved.
“We’ve had guys on our team donate towards it. We’ve had guys on other teams donate towards it. People we’ve helped out doing other charitable things, they have donated towards it. It’s such a cool thing when you get that community behind you to go out there and help out,” Hendriks said. “They gain nothing themselves. It’s all about someone else. It’s all about helping another community, another culture try to get ahead and get to a point where they can survive and do everything that they want to do without having to walk 45 minutes each way to get to water or to spend an hour-and-a-half away from their kids when they are raising their kids. The ripple effect is huge.
“Everyone is available. They aren’t above anybody. They aren’t saying, ‘oh, that’s not my charity, so I’m not going to do it.’ They aren’t worried about anything. If it’s a charity and it’s something that they believe in, they are going to go about it full-fledged. We’ve been very blessed to have great teammates who have helped out, who have played in the Dominican, been to the Dominican or are part of the Latin culture and they are all on board. They say, ‘okay, let’s do it. Let’s go help out when we can.’ It’s been a huge thing for me. You realize, it’s a brotherhood. Everybody picks up everybody else.”
Hendriks’ charitable efforts extend beyond Striking Out Poverty. He and his wife are also heavily involved in several animal rescue and animal rights organizations, including Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), Players for Pits, the Petco Foundation, Remember Me Thursday, Athletes for Animals and the Mission K-9 Rescue.
Rescue animals have been a big part of Hendriks’ life since he was four years old, when his family adopted its first rescue cat. When he met his wife, she had a rescue dog. Together, they currently have three rescue Chihuahuas and are fostering another, and they have two rescue cats. While Hendriks was with the Toronto Blue Jays, he got involved in advocating against breed restrictions in the state of Ontario and he has continued to do work on that issue, as well. He also recently did a PSA for ARF in Brevard County, Florida as part of ARF’s efforts to raise awareness of the animals they had taken in in advance of Hurricane Irma.
During the course of the year, Hendriks has also participated in a variety of community events through the Oakland A’s, including visits to local schools and soup kitchens. He relishes the opportunity to meet members of the community away from the ballpark, and he believes it helps to humanize athletes.
“It’s cool being out and about in the community because people see you not just as a number or a guy on the field now. That’s big on our part because we are exactly the same as everybody else,” Hendriks said. “We aren’t any different and we are just trying to do our part and we are trying to put our best foot forward in the community. Any impact we can have is great. They meet you and say, ‘okay, this guy is pretty cool, let’s see what he’s all about.’ All of a sudden, they are looking at everything that you do on- and off-the-field and they tell their friends who tell their friends, and so on. You are looking at a big boon in the viewership of the charities that we support and the awareness of everything that we are trying to do.”
Hendriks hopes that the recognition he has received for his charitable work serves to bring more awareness of the causes that he supports.
“It’s such an honor. You look at all of the awards you can get on and off the field, and you ask anybody: [the Roberto Clemente award] is one of the biggest ones you can get – on the field, off the field, anything like that,” Hendriks said. “I’m not looking for publicity about myself or anything like that. But any publicity that I get positively reflects on the charities that we work with and raises awareness of all of the work that we do. That can only mean good things. Purely from a charity point of view, it’s a great honor for me, but it raises awareness for the causes that we support and hopefully that will get people to look into it and get people involved.”
The A’s will honor Hendriks as the Dave Stewart Community Service Award winner before Wednesday’s game at the Coliseum. The winner of the Roberto Clemente Award will be decided in October. Fans will have an opportunity to learn about all of the nominees and vote for a nominee between Oct. 2-9 through MLB.com.
To learn more about the organizations Hendriks is involved with, please visit the following links:
Striking Out Poverty: https://pledgeit.org/liam-hendriks
Players for Pits: http://www.playersforpits.com/
Mission K-9 Rescue: http://missionk9rescue.org/
Remember Me Thursday: https://remembermethursday.org/
Athletes for Animals: http://athletesforanimals.org/
Petco Foundation: https://www.petcofoundation.org/
Oakland A’s Community Fund: http://oakland.athletics.mlb.com/oak/sponsorship/community_fund.jsp
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