Hendricks is welcome O's anchor

In a sport with constant change, the Orioles' Elrod Hendricks is the very soul of stability.

Throughout the majors there are new players, new managers, new league alignments, even new teams. Two expansion franchises were added during the strike.

Look at the newness of the Orioles:

The manager (Phil Regan) is in his first year.

Pete Angelos and his partners have owned the club less than two years. The player roster is constantly altered.

All of Regan's coaches are new this year except one -- Hendricks. Elrod is in his 27th season in an Orioles uniform, his 18th straight as the club's bullpen catcher.

If you don't think that's a long time, consider: Brooks Robinson spent only 21 seasons in an Orioles uniform.

Ellie came to the Orioles in 1968, when they were on the verge of winning three straight pennants ('69-'71), and he is still with them now as they struggle to avoid last place in the American League East.

At 9 a.m. yesterday, with the Orioles just back from a disastrous road trip, Hendricks opened the baseball camp he and Mike McMillan have run on the beautiful McDonogh School campus for 14 years.

Two of Elrod's sons -- Ryan and Ian -- are McDonogh graduates. Ryan is playing ball at Huntington, W.Va. Ian is a student-athlete at St. Andrews College in North Carolina.

Make no mistake about it -- Elrod Hendricks is entrenched here.

Naturally some of the parents delivering campers asked about the struggling Orioles.

What was wrong? L How could the club have lost six straight on that road trip?

How could Mike Mussina have given up six runs while facing only ten hitters?

"We've made too many changes," Hendricks said. "It's good to make maybe five changes a year, but 12 changes out of 25 players is too much."

Not that Hendricks thinks the Orioles should stand pat.

"I see you got rid of Andy Van Slyke," a camp mother told him. "I liked Andy because he was more my age."

"We didn't get rid of him," Elrod said. "He was traded to Philadelphia. Now we need to make about three more changes.

"Our trouble is, we have some young players coming up the hill who are not sure they belong here, and we have some coming down the hill who aren't sure they still belong up here. NTC "Some of our best pitchers -- the ones we look to for help -- are looking for help themselves."

Like Mussina?

"Yeah," said Hendricks. "The funny thing about Mike Sunday in Detroit, when he was warming up he had the best stuff he's had all year. Then he couldn't get anybody out."

"Who warmed him up?" Elrod was asked.

"I did!" said the 54-year-old Hendricks. "After Mike came out, I asked him if he had a sore arm. He said no, he just couldn't get comfortable on that mound. He couldn't find a good hole to put his toe in."

Elrod was saying the club's bullpen was too young and that a seasoned reliever like Mark Williamson was bound to be missed. Which led Easton's Kitty Schneider to ask: "Why'd we get rid of Lee Smith?"

"I'd like to have those 16 saves," Hendricks told her, "but when you pay doctors a lot of money to examine a man and they tell you because of his age and his condition he might last a half-season, what are you going to do?"

Kitty Schneider is an example of the grip Elrod Hendricks has on this community.

Fourteen summers ago -- Elrod's first at McDonogh -- Kitty's son, James, was a camper.

Today James is 27 years old and working for a living, but Kitty continues to come to the camp every year on opening day to renew acquaintances. It's become a tradition.

"I left Easton at 7 this morning," she said. "I just like to come and see Elrod and all these kids on their first day of baseball camp."

Someone asked Hendricks if he thought Cal Ripken's streak was a distraction.

"No," said Elrod. "Cal is Cal, no matter what. He just comes to play, day after day, year after year. He's the same all the time, very even.

"The streak might be a good thing for the rest of the team. It takes people's minds off the way they're playing."

As the last campers arrived, Elrod circulated. He greeted one of the youngest, 7-year-old Dustin Harmon, who wants to learn to pitch, and one of the older ones, 16-year-old Bob Moran.

"The reason my son is here," said Bob Moran Sr., "is we took him to Elrod's home for instruction and he learned more in one hour than he's learned from all the camps he's been to, including the one at Princeton. I've never seen anyone teach the game so well and in such a relaxed way as Elrod does."

Now it was time for Hendricks to address the 120 campers assembled in the dining hall.

"I'm the bad guy," Elrod started off. "I'm the one who goes around yelling at you when things don't go right.

"That doesn't mean you should be afraid to make a mistake. They've been playing baseball for 125 years and they're still looking for the perfect player. We just want you to come out of this camp better than you came in, but we can't teach you anything if you don't want to learn."

Another summer, another camp, another Orioles season. In the changing sea that baseball has become, Elrod Hendricks is a welcome anchor.

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