Elrod Hendricks' coaching legacy, love of baseball endure in son Ian
When we last saw Ian Hendricks, he'd just thrown out the ceremonial first pitch at Camden Yards, the one that opened the Orioles' season. Rick Dempsey gave him a hug and the crowd stood in appreciation of Ian's father, Elrod Hendricks, the Orioles' longtime coach who died in December.
Since then, Ian hasn't returned to Oriole Park. He can't. It's too hard.
At the same time, though, he has never been closer to baseball. Ian, 29, was named head baseball coach this week at his alma mater, McDonogh School in Owings Mills. He had been a varsity assistant there since 2001.
"When Ian found out, he called me," says his mother, Merle Hendricks, "and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'I wish Ellie was here.' Everyone who knew Ellie knew how proud he was of his boys."
It's not always easy to follow in your father's footsteps. It can be tough for a plumber or for an auto mechanic, and you can bet that when Dad's face is synonymous with one of the city's most beloved institutions, people are going to make some comparisons.
Ian grew up in a baseball clubhouse. He was born the year his father began a long, storied coaching career with the Orioles. Ian played around at Memorial Stadium, then competitively at McDonogh. He played ball in college, was drafted by the New York Mets and played a year of rookie ball.
During that time, even when Ian wasn't at Orioles games, his name was a constant at the ballpark; Elrod talked about family and baseball. In that order.
"The name, of course, leads to that notion that there are these shoes to fill," Ian says. "I'm a product of my dad, but also a product of the game. It was always one of those things where my dad was going to love me no matter what I did. I loved baseball, just like he did. Being around him often meant being around baseball."
And being around the Orioles. The team honored Elrod at that Opening Day ceremony. Ian was on the field. His mother was up in a private suite. She told The Sun then how upset she was with the organization for the way it handled her husband's dismissal. The only reason she attended the game, she said, was because it was important to Ian that he throw that ceremonial first pitch.
"I haven't been out since then," Ian said. "It has nothing to do with the team or what happened. It was just very hard on Opening Day, thinking the whole time that my dad was supposed to be there. At the ballpark, we all just kind of expect his presence, you know?"
Ian says he was initially upset with the Orioles, but that's not why he has stayed away from Camden Yards. "Even though it's my father, as bad as it might have seemed at the time, I wasn't going to let it bother me for too long," he said.
His mother hasn't been back either. She's had telephone discussions with Mike Flanagan, the Orioles' executive vice president, and the two met earlier this season.
"I've spoken to Mike Flanagan," she said. "I'm not too sure what to say beyond that. We spoke and he understands how I feel. That's all I'll say. He understands why I feel the way I do. We came to an understanding on that."
By now, it's clear that no one's retiring Hendricks' number, no one is renaming the section of Eutaw Street that runs beyond the right-field wall. He lives on in his sons, and he lives on in memories - the good ones and the painful ones, which are often one and the same.
Merle can't see herself returning to the ballpark anytime soon. When you lose a loved one, you also lose little parts of your routine and your city. There are restaurants, stores, parks that you just don't want to visit. They're too easily identifiable with your spouse. "The hurt is still here every day," Merle says.
But it's not like that with baseball, not for Ian.
Sure, the game still reminds him of his father, but on the diamond he clings to his own sense of ownership. The passion wasn't genetic. He played his own way, and he coaches his own way.
There is that shared spark, though. No one denies that.
"I don't think coaching was something that I planned on doing, but I had so much fun once I started," Ian says. "For a couple of years, I thought I was having more fun coaching baseball than the kids were having playing it. But it wasn't like my dad led me in this direction. It was just something I picked up."
Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog