When it comes to baseball, Kyle Hendricks is a master of adapting to his environment and making adjustments.

But can he do the same thing away from the stadium, where his life has evolved into rock star status?

Hendricks made a career flying under the radar. He never found his name on the top prospect rankings as he was coming up through the Cubs or Texas Rangers systems.

He spent his first three years in Chicago walking or taking public transit to Wrigley Field and people hardly recognized him. Though, it's hard to blame fans — in street clothes, Hendricks looks more like an accountant than a Cy Young finalist.

But now, after playing a central role in ending the Cubs' 108-year championship drought, things have changed.

When Hendricks showed up in Chicago in mid-January for Cubs Convention, he was mobbed at baggage claim at the airport by a group of Cubs fans numbering in the 40, by his estimation.

"I don't know how they know where you're flying in from," Hendricks wondered aloud. "The world has definitely changed for me a little bit. Chicago is crazy; I can't go anywhere. But it's not too bad in Southern California. I would've never gotten recognized before and now, there are a couple circumstances that I will, so it's definitely changed.

"Walking to the field and public transit might be out now. It was fun for a while there. It's still fun to get that. Honestly, Chicago fans, all the people I've met, they come up to you and they just wanna say, 'Thank you,' or tell you their — where they were at [when the Cubs won], about their family. 

 

"I've had some really special people come up to me and give me their stories. That's the cool part of it. We've only been on this team for a couple years, but these fans, they've been gridlocked in this for a long, long time. For them to realize this [championship], it's pretty awesome."

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Hendricks isn't likely to get swept up in his new rock star status. He's very down-to-earth and may be the nicest guy on a Cubs team that will be immortalized in history.

"We just play the game. To be able to provide this to the fans — they're the ones that really should enjoy this," he said. "They're the ones that have done this. Without the fans and their backing and having the full support throughout the losing years, this would've never been possible. All the excitement of it really wouldn't've happened. That's what it really comes down to.

"I don't think [it's set in yet]. A lot of guys talk about it. There's gonna be fans forever talking about this team or this guy or some of the games in the playoffs. It's kinda like the '04 Red Sox. People are going to talk about it forever. I don't think that will ever set in for us. We're just regular guys out here playing the game that we love and luckily, this happened for us."

Hendricks' Ivy League education will follow him wherever he goes — he said all his friends from Dartmouth are on Wall Street now, "which sounds awful" — and he's earned the reputation as one of the most cerebral players in the game today.

So, even after leading the majors in ERA last season, Hendricks isn't content with where he's at as a pitcher.

"I don't think [there's more pressure]," he said. "You're always trying to improve if you're a competitor; you're not worried about what anybody else's expectations are. You have expectations of yourself and what you want to do. 

"I'm always trying to get better, develop. You can never stop that process." 

That being said, Hendricks admitted his confidence has grown immensely since 2015, when he struggled to find consistency and finished the year with a 3.95 ERA and two shaky postseason starts.

In 2016, Hendricks came into his own as a pitcher and his confidence grew as he saw the results of his work and prepartion show up on the field, culminating in a 16-8 record, 2.13 ERA, 0.979 WHIP and third-place finish in the National League Cy Young race.

"At the end of '15, my mechanics were kind of lost," Hendricks said. "The confidence level wasn't where it is now. I think you can only have that confidence sometimes when you see the results, but it's hard to be that way.

 

"As much as you focus on the process, you gotta see the results in the end. So that really helped a lot to have that validation, I guess, in a way. Going forward, you can always carry confidence with you, but things are always changing, so you have to be ready."

That boost in confidence helps explain Hendricks' success in the postseason, as he made good on his father's promise to Cubs executive Jason McLeod and delivered the franchise to a title.

Hendricks said last fall was the best he's ever felt at the end of the season and aimed to make this offseason very similar to what he's done in the past despite pitching the most innings (215.1) he's ever thrown.

He also isn't trying to tinker too much with his arsenal after attributing much of his leap forward to learning how to use his four-seam fastball and curveball more effectively. 

"Just refining, working on everything I have," Hendricks said. "Going into this year, there might be a different answer [than using a curveball and four-seamer more]. I think the only way to know that is going into the game and seeing what the hitters are giving you, being able to feel the game, seeing if they're staying on my curveball, my four-seamer, if they're looking for those pitches this year, stuff like that.

"You just have to always be on your toes because hitters are always changing, the game's always changing. So you can't stay steadfast in what you're doing. You have to look at the other side of it."