Washington Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon has accomplished a lot since making his major league debut in 2013. The 25-year-old has more than 400 hits, 150 RBIs, and 150 walks. He earned a Silver Slugger in 2013 as the National League’s top offensive third baseman, and he has a .273 career batting average. Rendon is also active in the community. Several times a week, he visits Nats Academy, an organization where students go after school to learn about baseball, nutrition, and life. Rendon is actually on the board of Nats Academy.
In May, before the Nationals played the Tigers, I sat down with Rendon and asked him about his road to the majors and about what it's like to be a major leaguer.
What is your earliest memory of baseball?
I would have to say Little League. I was about four or five years old, and I was playing with a team, the Dodgers, and we had a little tryout so that the coach could figure out which kid was best at playing each position. The coach put us all in centerfield, and he goes, “Alright, just field a ground ball and throw it home.” I mean, not many kids are going to reach past second base. I tried to throw it as hard as I could, and I reached all the way to the backstop! So I don’t know why I ended up at shortstop, not centerfield!
Who were your biggest role models as a kid?
In life, my parents, [for] the way they raised my brother and I, taught us the values of life. They are my biggest life role models — even to this day. Neither one of my parents played baseball or softball, so my biggest role model in baseball was probably Willie Ansley. He was and still is my hitting coach. He started with me around nine or 10 years old, and he has been my biggest help in this game.
How about your brother? Is he younger or older than you?
He’s four and a half years older than me.
Did you guys compete a lot?
Did you ever win?
As we got older, I started to compete a little more and more, and I would get the edge on him sometimes. Definitely when we were younger, he was a lot larger than I was, so he definitely manhandled me and put me in my place a lot of times. But it was fun, and I actually credit him a lot too because he didn’t ease up on me at all. So I either needed to learn to keep up with him or not play with my brother at all.
What was your favorite team growing up?
The hometown Astros! We had the Killer B’s. We had [Craig] Biggio, [Jeff] Bagwell, Derek Bell. I remember going to one Astros game in the Astrodome.
Do you remember anything about that game?
We got to go early and get a tour of the stadium. That place was dirty! It was not like [Nationals Park]. It was really old — nasty, grimy, and that was the one thing I remember. So dirty. [Shivers]
What was your biggest challenge on the road to the majors, and how did you overcome it?
I think trying to get acclimated to pro ball. I guess being away from home. Growing up in Houston and then going to college — I didn’t stay at home in college, but I went to Rice, which is in Houston. But just being away from home and away from the atmosphere of knowing that your family is relatively close — just a 45-minute drive home. They were in arms reach. Being away and going to Auburn, New York, in the middle of nowhere and going to Florida by yourself with random people you don’t even know. So, I think just getting acclimated to being on your own and maturing as an adult.
How did you overcome being away from your parents?
Maturing and growing up as an adult. College really helped me a lot. Staying on campus my first year and then living on my own my sophomore and junior years. You know, you really learn you take for granted a lot of things. You have to cook for yourself. Do your own laundry. And then you have to fold the clothes, which I still hate doing! Then you have to pay your bills, put gas in your car. There are a lot of small things you don’t realize that you take for granted and then it all piles up. You have to budget your money so you can make it through the next check!
Did you have a specialty meal you made for yourself a lot?
I was a ramen noodles kind of guy. Probably like every other college kid.
Where were you when you found out you had gotten drafted?
I was at Rice. We had a watch party in the R room at the football stadium. It’s like a community or banquet center. We had a little TV, and the news crew was there with their cameras. My teammates were there, my family.
You had your best statistical year in 2014. Was that a turning point for you, or was there another year or moment in the majors or minors that was a turning point?
I think just the first time getting called up, which was in 2013. 2012 was my first year coming off an injury. I was not too high on myself, thinking that I’m going to get hurt again. So coming back in 2013, starting off really well and then getting my first call up, I think maybe I’m doing something right. I stick to my game plan, try to continue to get better and grow, I could maybe be up here permanently.
Who told you that you were getting called up?
Matthew LeCroy. He was my manager in Double A. He was our bullpen coach last year. He called me into the office. He told me what was going on as of late. And he goes, “By the way, you’re getting called up.” It was great!
Who did you call first?
My mom. You gotta call Mom first.
How many times have you moved for baseball?
Well, I consider my first move was my junior year in high school. Growing up where we did, we moved out of there because the school I was at wasn’t a very good baseball school. My parents actually sacrificed and sold the house. We moved into an apartment, a small apartment, so I could go to another high school. That is where I was seen more. Professional scouts and college scouts were going to our games to see other kids and saw me play. That was my first move. College, two. I guess every three years, I moved to different spots. And then every year since, so eight times.
What was your favorite city to play?
Probably hometown Houston. Home is where your heart is, right? Playing there in college, I had a lot of my friends who did not go out of state to college. They would still come down and make it to my games. When we would go play at other schools, where I had friends go to college, they would come to my games.
Is Houston your favorite place to play road games?
Yes, it is. We only played there once, in 2014. We only played two games. But I love that stadium. I played there when I was in college, and I’m pretty comfortable there.
Was your transition to a wood bat hard?
Yes, at first. I mean, you can get jammed with a metal bat and still hit that ball 250 feet into the gap or into the outfield. With a wood bat, that bat is breaking, and it’s a little blooper to shortstop. A little more concentration, you have realize you have to put the barrel on the ball a little more often.
I have to ask the bat debate question: Which is the better bat, wood or metal?
Definitely metal. Come on! The old metal bats — [the NCAA] actually changed it. My last year in college, they changed it to BBCOR, and those bats are terrible. But the old metal bats, I would take that any day of the week.
What are the funniest moments you have been a part of or witnessed in the majors?
Any time Gio [Gonzalez] is on the mound. If the ball comes back at him — a ground ball, a line drive, or something, he’s going to have a reaction. He might whiff at that ball, he might jump out of the way. So, I think watching Gio pitch on the mound, how he carries himself. That’s comical to me.
Who is your best friend on the team?
Oh, man! You can’t ask me that question. I like them all. But I guess the younger guys because we relate to each other more than some of the veterans guys and older people. So I would say the younger guys.
Are you saying the older guys are not that cool?
They’re not, man. They’re old and grumpy. Come on!
I heard that you used to hit pine cones with sticks when you were younger. Did that help you? Is that something you would recommend to younger players?
I do not recommend that because you will cut up your hands with those pinecones! And the sticks aren’t smooth either. But, yes, I think it did help me. Sticks are not the largest things in the world. So I guess building up my hand-eye coordination at a young age and just trying to see the stick hitting the pinecone. It had to help, right?
What do you think about all the arm injuries and kids playing year-round?
I do think kids should play year-round. I played year-round my whole life. I’ve never had a spring break, never gone on any vacation. It was always baseball, baseball, baseball. But, you do have to do it in moderation. You have to be smart about it. Don’t go out there right off the bat, step on the field, and throw as hard as you can. Take your time. Warm up; do your proper stretching. Get gradually warmed up. Don’t just jump right into it.
Do you have any advice for kids who play baseball?
As long as you are having fun, keep playing. The day that this game stops being fun, you are not going to want to do it any more. As long as you are having fun, keep going for it!
Photos, from top: Courtesy of Aidan Kohn-Murphy, Bob Levey/Getty Images, Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images