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In his battle with cancer, Chris Hendrick finds refuge in baseball

June 19, 2018 FieldsColumn

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Umpire Chris Hendrick was behind the plate for a quarterfinal game in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament. (Photo by Tim Hendrick)

BY MIKE FIELDS

While Chris Hendrick is undergoing chemotherapy today in Louisville, he will occupy his mind with happy thoughts of umpiring in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament the past two weekends in Lexington.

Hendrick, who has been battling cancer the past 21 months, finds refuge on the diamond.

“Any baseball game gives me a chance to feel normal,” he said after working Friday night’s semifinal game between Hazard and St. Xavier at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

“It’s my sacred place, my get-away-from-reality place. I don’t feel like I’m sick out there. All I have to do is worry about what’s going on between the lines, and that puts my mind at ease.”

Life has thrown a wicked curveball at the 27-year-old Hendrick, a former three-sport athlete at Carroll County High School.

In late summer of 2016, he was experiencing back pain and shortness of breath to the extent that he went to a hospital emergency room in Frankfort, where he was living.

A CT scan revealed a tumor on his spine and another in his lungs.

A week or so later it was officially diagnosed as Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that usually strikes children and young adults.

“Hearing you have cancer, you really don’t know how to react,” Hendrick said. “There’s heartbreak. You’re speechless.”

Chris Hendrick worked 4 games in the state tournament over the past two weekends. (Photo by Tim Hendrick)

Since Ewing’s sarcoma most often affects kids and adolescents, Hendrick has seen pediatric doctors for all of his care.

Starting in October, 2016, he underwent seven months of chemotherapy. He also had radiation, and was treated with an experimental drug.

Along the way, scans showed promise: the tumors were disappearing.

Then last December came bad news: the tumors on his lungs were growing again.

“It was tough to hear,” Hendrick said. “You’re ready to fight, ready to battle, but it takes more effort to go through it again. You realize you have to do it, but there were days, a couple of weeks, where I was depressed.”

Starting in February this year, he had two more rounds of chemo.

Afterward, scans showed the treatment was ineffective.

“We went back to the drawing board to figure out a new plan,” Hendrick said. “They told me finding a cure probably wasn’t in the cards right now, so we had to find a way to keep it from getting worse.”

It was decided to try more chemo, starting the day after Memorial Day, with treatments every three weeks.

At least the timing would allow him to umpire in the 8th Region baseball tournament, and more important, the state tournament.

He wasn’t about to let cancer keep him off the diamond.

He had been notified in mid-April that he had been selected to work the state tournament.

“I was really excited when I got the phone call,” he said. “I was at a loss for words, quite frankly. They told me not to tell anybody, so the first thing I did was tell my dad.”

Tim Hendrick, an umpire himself, had worked the 2013 state tournament so he knew what a thrill it would be for his son.

And he knew Chris would be up to the job, despite his cancer.

“He’s been amazing, really,” Tim said. “He tells the doctors what all he’s doing and they’re slack-jawed. They say, ‘You’re not supposed to be able to do all that.’ But he’s doing it. He’s just a big, strong country kid.”

Chris, like his dad, is also a basketball referee, but baseball is his passion.

“I love everything about it,” he said. “The green grass. The seams on the baseball. Being able to make the big call when it’s thrown on you.

“I really enjoy it. Watching it. Playing it. Umpiring it. I just find it so peaceful.”

Chris Hendrick

Hendrick worked four games over the two weeks of the state tournament, including a behind-the-plate assignment for Greenup County-Hazard in the quarterfinals. He handled everything just fine. Adrenaline helped fuel him.

Hendrick, who’s 6-foot-3, has lost about 85 pounds during his fight with cancer, “so half the battle on the field is keeping my pants up; they keep falling down,” he said with a laugh.

He was at second base for the Hazard-St. X Friday night, and he had lots of supporters there, including his parents, his children, and his girlfriend.

“When he’s on the field, he doesn’t think about the battle he’s facing, the cancer he’s got,” said his mother, Ruth Ann. “People think about umpires having stress out there, but to Chris, it’s a stress reliever. He loves baseball, and always has, so he’s literally living his dream, doing what he wants to do out there.”

Hendrick said his mom and dad “have been rocks for me,” and his girlfriend Jessica Moore “has been amazing. She’s been there for me the entire time. She’s held my hand through it all.”

And then there are his children, daughters Maggi (8) and Kennedy (5), and sons Bentley (6) and Hudson (3). They not only keep him on his toes, they remind him of the kids he’s seen fighting the same disease he has.

“My first round of chemo, I was in the children’s hospital, and I got to see all these beautiful kids just being kids, even though they had cancer,” Hendrick said. “You’ve got to fight for every moment, every hour, every day, and live with the spirit those kids have. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

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