Houston Baseball Power

Anthony Rendon is turning into a true star, but his Rice University humbleness isn't going, going, gone

Anthony Rendon turning into a true star, but he's still Rice humble

Anthony Rendon Nationals
Anthony Rendon's been hustling through the big leagues, making a major impact for the Washington Nationals. Courtesy of Washington Hardball
Anthony Rendon Rice
Anyone who interacted with Anthony Rendon at Rice cannot be surprised by his grace in the Majors. Courtesy of Owl Time
Anthony Rendon Nationals
Anthony Rendon Rice

Anthony Rendon used the expansion and contraction of his lungs to describe the feeling of being back in Houston, of arriving Sunday night with the Washington Nationals and coming to the realization that everyone and everything that helped make him ascendant was suddenly within close proximity.

"I was just like," Rendon said before exhaling demonstratively. "I took a deep breath and said, 'Damn, I'm home.'

"Being in an environment where I know everything, I know every back road in Houston pretty much (is fulfilling). Just being here with my family and knowing that I've got people that love me and care for me here, it's an awesome feeling to be relaxed and just feel welcomed. You have that 'welcome home' feeling. I feel relaxed. I feel comfortable."

 Rendon has always been a reflection of grace and maturity. To expect him to be something different now is asinine. 

In that exhale was the purest expression of humility and joy, of appreciation and self-actualization. In one breath Rendon is reticent to declare that he has arrived, that his place as the Washington Nationals third baseman is secure and that he is in the process of taking the first steps toward a prosperous big league career.

In the other Rendon acknowledges the enormous pride that his arrival yielded, not gratification in his modest accomplishments, but satisfaction in providing those who buoyed his development as a youth and emboldened him when adversity struck reason to cheer raucously at Minute Maid Park in his two-game return earlier this week.

Rendon is quick to proclaim that he did not arrive here alone, offering a similar refrain for those familiar with his journey from Lamar High School to Rice University to the sixth overall pick of the 2011 first-year player draft. Rendon certainly appears self-made, having matured physically through persistence and dedication. When his exceptional talent took center stage on the national scene during his sophomore season with the Owls, Rendon handled the explosion of recognition with a sincerely modest touch.

When his platform of fame began to crumble beneath him, with debilitating injuries the culprit, Rendon handled those crises as adroitly. He has always been a reflection of grace and maturity. To expect him to be something different now is asinine.

These two games against the Houston Astros presented Rendon an opportunity to give thanks to those who were in his corner throughout his journey here. His debut in his hometown as a professional presented the usual storylines, but the primary narrative entailed Rendon striving in part for his loyal fan base. His memorable performances — Rendon went 5-for-10 with three extra-base hits, three RBIs and two runs in a two-game sweep — underscored that regard.

"Oh, you better believe it," Rendon said. "For all those people that were coming to the games I wouldn't be in this situation if it wasn't for each and every one of them. They have a part in my life, in every situation at one time or another.

"If my parents didn't take me to a game I probably had a friend that took me to a game or someone that would help me along the way, give me a ride to school or something. Just little things that maybe if that one thing didn't happen maybe I wouldn't be here today. Everyone has a little chip in me. I feel like I'm part of their lives and they're a part of me.

"I'm doing this for them, I'm not doing this just for me. I want to show them that you can go someone coming from not too much."

Nationals New Lifeline

The Nationals are reaping the benefits of how far Rendon has come. He left Houston leading the Nationals in hits (36) and RBIs (20). His versatility as a hitter has enabled Washington first-year manager Matt Williams to insert Rendon into every spot in the Nationals batting order excluding third and ninth. 

"He's hit really well. He's hit all over the lineup for us," Williams said. "He's driven in big runs, he's gotten big hits for us. He's played really, really well.

"He's a special player in that he's got the ability to hit the ball line to line, and that's what makes him so valuable as a hitter."

Rendon is equally versatile in the field, shifting from second base to the position he excelled at with Rice when revered veteran Ryan Zimmerman was lost to injury on April 13. Zimmerman had been rendered inconsistent by shoulder problems, putting the Nationals in position to contemplate Rendon at third and Zimmerman at first. With Rendon defending exceptionally at third base, that conflict will shift to the forefront whenever Zimmerman returns to action.

 "He's a special player in that he's got the ability to hit the ball line to line, and that's what makes him so valuable as a hitter." 

"His versatility in the infield is certainly valuable to us and to him," Williams said of Rendon. "I've been impressed with how he's played the game.

"He's made the plays. It's not easy switching sides of the field. He's adjusted really well."

Adjusting ably came in part through past triumphs over travails. A fractured ankle put a premature end to his breakout freshman season at Rice and his run with Team USA the following summer. A bum shoulder sapped him of his ability to man third as a junior and likely cost him a slot or two when the draft unfolded on his 21st birthday. Another ankle injury followed during his first pro season with Washington, raising red flags over his durability and fragility.

Thus when the Nationals announced that Rendon would enter into a battle this spring with veteran Danny Espinosa, with the winner claiming the starting job at second base, Rendon was as prepared mentally for the challenge as he was physically for the competition. Espinosa had the track record of nearly 1,600 plate appearances in the big leagues yet Rendon, whose debut season with the Nationals resulted in a .265/.329/.396 over 98 games in 2013, won the job.

It helped his cause that he entered camp with the confidence of a player who'd earned his spot and held his own after his previous cup of coffee.

"I guess I wasn't scared as much walking in there," Rendon said. "I got a little glimpse to prove to the team last year what abilities I have and what I can bring to the table. I'd been working hard through the offseason and I knew going into spring training I was ready and more prepared and I was looking forward to the season actually and getting ready and prepared to play 162 games and to battle for a position to start opening day.

"Things just happened to roll my way and now I'm here still, so it's awesome."

Rendon blushed when he revealed that more than 200 supporters were on hand to witness his homecoming, many decked out in red Nationals T-shirts, his surname and No. 6 on their backs. A large contingent was stationed outside Minute Maid Park late Tuesday night more than an hour after the Nationals wrapped up their 4-3 comeback victory. Presumably they were waiting for the local kid done good, anxious to heap additional admiration on his shoulders.

Having taken time to consider it all, Rendon artfully painted a picture of how his development was shaped by those who cheered him on. They represented key figures in his homecoming, helping enhance all the fond memories that will one day accompany any recollection of this triumphant return home. Rendon might one day misremember his batting lines or final scores, but the story of how he arrived at these games and the family and friends who helped get him here was more vital than his performances at the plate. Rendon celebrated his support system as ardently as they reveled in his pending stardom.

"It's pretty awesome. It's actually breathtaking, too," Rendon said. "Coming from where I came from I've just been fortunate to be in this situation. I had a rough college life going dealing with all those ankle injuries and had all these adversities thrown at me but I pulled through it and had a lot of great family members behind me, a lot of great friends.

"The man upstairs loves me for some reason."