APPLETON -- The best bat can put even a perfect pitcher in their place. There’s only one person that can keep all the bats at bay. For Appleton East’s baseball team, that steward of sticks, the assembler of aluminum is 7-year-old Maggie Hendrick.
“When the boys hit the ball, once the play is done, my dad usually says to go on the dirt path to the bat,” said Maggie. “I bring it back and put it where the bats go.”
Maggie is the daughter of Appleton East assistant coach John Hendrick, and she’s a staple in the Patriots’ dugout. Wearing a purple helmet, personalized jersey and perpetual smile, Maggie gets the bats, takes part in the cheers and urges her boys on to a win.
“Her attitude she brings to the team, there's never dull moment,” said East second baseman Dawson Feucht. “We could strike out three guys in a row and she'd still be cheering us on, getting a smile out of us.”
Her tenure as bat girl couldn’t come at a better time. The last year has been a challenge for the Hendrick family with Maggie staring down the biggest challenge. As she dealt with pain last year, doctors had trouble putting their finger on the cause. Her father found out the news last year around Labor Day.
“My wife gave me a call at 2 o'clock in the morning and said, 'hey, the doctors think Maggie has leukemia.'”
—John Hendrick, Maggie's Dad
“My wife gave me a call at 2 o'clock in the morning and said, hey, the doctors think Maggie has leukemia, and that started our last 8 months of dealing with cancer in our house,” said John.
John says Maggie has handled her fight with cancer “very, very well.” The chemotherapy and medicine occasionally sap her energy, and she’s not a fan of taking pills nor how they make her feel.
“In like one day I took five medicines, I think,” said Maggie. “I had to take one at night, I was just done after I had those four medicines.”
Maggie doesn’t like their taste, but the medicines seem to be working. John says all signs are pointing towards a “very positive outcome.” The community has rallied around the Hendrick family, too. John says Appleton East baseball parents and families were the first to volunteer, bringing meals, donating money and helping with chores. Help has also poured in from rival schools like Fond du Lac and Oshkosh West, even from teams he played for and against as a player himself.
The East players, meanwhile, have taken to looking out for Maggie and making her one of their own. Maggie says the players make her “feel a part of all of what's happening.” They insisted she be in the team photo and try to include her in everything they do.
“Having her around, be part of the team, it helps us,” said Patriots head coach Randy Reed. “It helps us as team and it helps us produce great young men.”
Signs have been positive lately. Just within the last three weeks Maggie is back at school, attending for half days. Even more fun, however: she’s started playing tee ball.
“I'm just like, 'when are we going to do a game?'” said Maggie. “My dad's like, 'are you sure we're ready?' I'm just like, 'well I'm ready!'”
The Hendrick family is breathing slightly easier, too. A baseball bunch through and through, her dad has one apt contract between Maggie’s situation and the guys she sometimes watches on TV.
“She and steroids don't get along well, so she's different from a baseball player that way,” said John.