Grateful Hendricks returns to clubhouse for warm welcome

First, Steve Reed came over and put Elrod Hendricks in a bearhug. Steve Kline did the same moments later. Jay Gibbons was next and then Miguel Tejada walked across the clubhouse to Hendricks' locker and gave the Orioles' longtime bullpen coach a firm pat on the back.

Nearly three weeks after suffering a minor stroke, which he admitted had him scared and feeling he "was not going to make it," Hendricks returned to the Orioles' clubhouse and put on the jersey he has worn for 37 years.

"It was a good feeling," Hendricks said of being back with the Orioles for the first time since April 14, when he had the stroke while the Orioles were playing against Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I missed it enough where I don't know what it's going to be like in retirement, but I know that I am not going to like it. I watched the games every night. I was like an addict. At a quarter to 7, I'd check my watch to see what time it was, and then at 7 o'clock, I'd turn on the TV and concentrate on the game. I got into the game as if I was coaching."

Hendricks, 64, wore his trademark grin throughout a 12-minute talk with the media in the dugout before yesterday's series finale with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was 20 pounds lighter, the only visible effect of the stroke, although he said "my mind is still working faster than my mouth."

After getting permission from his doctors to return to the team and to travel with the Orioles when they go on the road, Hendricks will officially resume his duties as bullpen coach in tomorrow's series opener with the Kansas City Royals. Yesterday, he just returned to speak to the media and get the "feel back of the clubhouse."

"The guys in the clubhouse and on staff are really glad to see him," said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli, who jokingly reminded Hendricks that the Orioles won eight straight at one point while he was gone. "He'll be here a long time after we're all gone. He's a special person to all of us."

Steve McCatty, who has served as bullpen coach in Hendricks' absence, will return to Triple-A Ottawa, where he is the pitching coach.

Hendricks began his talk with reporters by reeling off several people whom he wanted to thank. Among those were Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who chartered a plane to return Hendricks to Baltimore six days after he was hospitalized; Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan, who was on the plane to pick him up; and several current and former teammates, like Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell and Earl Weaver, who provided almost daily phone calls.

Hendricks said he was especially motivated by a phone call from former teammate Moe Drabowsky, who has cancer.

"He's been going through a great ordeal for the last four, five years and here I am, three, four weeks prior to this and I am trying to cheer him up," said Hendricks. "And here he is on the phone, telling me, `Hey, you are going to be fine.'"

However, Hendricks saved his biggest thanks for Orioles head trainer Richie Bancells, who noticed symptoms of a stroke when Hendricks went to the training room after the final game against the Devil Rays and quickly rushed him to a local hospital. During the ninth inning in the bullpen, Hendricks said he couldn't communicate that he needed help.

He also said he wanted to join the Orioles on their flight back to Baltimore, but his instincts told him to go see Bancells.

"Richie probably single-handedly saved my life," said Hendricks. "I am indebted to him. He got me [to the hospital] in the nick of time.

"I just thought when I was in the hospital, how many people have died because they didn't get to the hospital on time. ... How lucky I was that I got there in time and got the right treatment."

Pitcher on way out?

Mazzilli said he has had discussions with executive vice president Jim Beattie and Flanagan about dropping from 12 to 11 pitchers, but no decision has been made. Reliever Rick Bauer has not pitched since April 20 and lefty John Parrish pitched Monday night for the first time since April 20.

"We talk about things every day, what we want to do," said Mazzilli. "Every day, Jim, Mike and I speak about how you want to tweak a team up, whether it's adding or subtracting players. That's just an everyday occurrence, but I don't know what it's going to lead to yet."

Frankly speaking

Rafael Palmeiro's second-inning single yesterday was his 2,942nd hit, tying Frank Robinson for 28th place on baseball's all-time hit list.

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