Aug. 9, 2002
TORONTO (AP) - Former NBA player Mark Hendrickson is happy he gave up basketball to play baseball two years ago.
He would, however, like to forget his major league debut.
Hendrickson, who played with the New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers from 1996 to 2000, allowed five runs and three hits while getting just one out for the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
"I think there is a lot of room for improvement," Hendrickson said.
At 6-foot-9, the 28-year-old left-hander is the tallest Blue Jays player ever. A former Washington State University basketball standout, he was drafted six times in baseball but didn't start his professional baseball career until 1998 with Toronto's Single-A affiliate at Dunedin. He only decided to play baseball full time after a mediocre basketball season with Cleveland in 2000.
"I always tell people I'm a pretty good basketball player. I do a lot of things good, but I don't do a lot of things great," said Hendrickson, who averaged 2.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 29 games with Philadelphia in 1996; 3.4 points and 3 rebounds in 48 games with Sacramento in 1997; and 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds in 1998 with New Jersey.
"I just want to put baseball first just to see how good I can be and then kind of reevaluate it," he said. "I have some gifts here. Being 6-9 and left-handed is like being a seven-footer in basketball."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hendrickson joins Danny Ainge, Gene Conley (another WSU alum), Dave DeBusschere, Dick Grat, Frankie Baumholtz, Cotton Nash, Ron Reed, Chuck Connors and Steve Hamilton as those who have played in both the NBA and major league baseball. Conley is the only player to play on both NBA and MLB championship teams (Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Braves), and he did it in the same year - 1957.
Hendrickson went 7-5 with a 3.52 ERA in 14 starts and five relief appearances at Triple-A Syracuse. He was called up on Monday.
"Obviously, I'm a little bit up there in age, but yet my arm is fairly young," he said.
As kid a growing up in Mt. Vernon, Washington, Hendrickson played both sports. He said baseball is his favorite sport in the summer and basketball is his favorite in the winter.
"I'm proud of how far I came in basketball, and obviously I could have stuck with basketball and had probably a decent career if I had of dedicated myself full time to it," he said. "But just the lure of what I could be in baseball is something that is very attractive to me."
He said he hopes to bring his mother to a game when the Blue Jays visit the West Coast. His mother raised him after his father was killed in the line of duty as a police officer when he was 5 months old.
"I think she was a little bit disappointed with her son's outing yesterday," he said.
He added that he isn't too worried about a baseball strike because he has the option of playing basketball again.
"Obviously, with labor discussions going on and a possibility of a strike, it's not a bad job to have," he said.