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Pitcher ready for poignant return

By PETE YOUNG
Published April 20, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Clair Trout died in January at age 87, but his memory is honored roughly every fifth day in a touching gesture from his grandson.

Before his first two starts this season, Rays pitcher Mark Hendrickson used his spikes to carve "CT," his maternal grandfather's initials, in the dirt behind the pitching rubber.

Today, Hendrickson will have the opportunity to honor Trout an hour from where he lived, near York, Pa., when he starts for the Rays at Baltimore in front of a horde of relatives.

"It's always a special trip, and even more special this time," Hendrickson said. "Both of my parents grew up (near York), so I have a lot of relatives there.

"It's kind of a big deal. Every known family member I've got is from that area."

Hendrickson grew up near Seattle and attended Washington State, but he spent several summers with his grandparents on their Pennsylvania farm. He also pitched semi-pro ball in the area during the offseason when he played in the NBA from 1996-2000. His grandparents were particularly influential in his life because Hendrickson's father, a Washington state patrol officer, was killed in the line of duty when he was an infant.

After his maternal grandmother died, Hendrickson and Trout became particularly close. This past offseason Hendrickson visited when his grandfather became ill.

"It kind of put things in perspective," Hendrickson said. "Sometimes we get so focused on the winning and losing of baseball that we don't realize how fortunate we are to play a game for a living. I think that gave me some sort of peace coming into the year."

Hendrickson, who was acquired from the Blue Jays in the offseason, has had two decent starts for the Rays and is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA. He hopes to get his first win in a sentimental game tonight in front of numerous supporters.

"I've handled baseball better (than basketball while playing in front of relatives), but I think that's just maturity," Hendrickson said. "I was younger and I put too much pressure on myself (when relatives were watching). I've learned to deal with it. I've been around long enough that I know how to handle it better."

TOUGH CROWD: If erstwhile No.2 starter Jeremi Gonzalez is jettisoned to the bullpen, as manager Lou Piniella indicated might happen, he will have a tough standard to uphold.

Rays relievers have been a collectively tough outfit. After Trever Miller, Jorge Sosa and Damian Moss pitched a perfect 31/3 innings Sunday in relief of Gonzalez, the Rays bullpen had a combined ERA of 3.58.

In 322/3 innings, Tampa Bay relievers have surrendered 26 hits. The best of the lot: Chad Gaudin has allowed six baserunners in five innings and no earned runs, and Danys Baez has allowed three baserunners in 42/3 and no earned runs.

SUB-MENDOZA: The Rays have scored the fewest runs in the league, 42, and - surprise! - poor hitting is the culprit.

Seven Rays hitters are batting below .200: Jason Romano (.125), Geoff Blum (.133), Robert Fick (.154), Aubrey Huff (.171), Brook Fordyce (.182), Eduardo Perez (.188) and Rocco Baldelli (.195).

Last week, the three worst averages in the AL belonged to Rays: Fick (.000), catcher Toby Hall (.000) and Huff (.077).

The Rays' leading hitter is veteran second baseman Rey Sanchez (.365), who is noted for his fielding.

ERROR FREE: Through 11 games the Rays have committed five errors, second-best in the AL behind the Mariners' three. Tampa Bay has suffered less for its mistakes than Seattle, with an AL-low one unearned run allowed.

- Information from the York (Pa.) Daily Record was used in this report, which was compiled by Times staff writer Pete Young.

[Last modified April 20, 2004, 01:20:37]

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