NEW YORK — The only player in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse just before 10 a.m. on Sunday morning wore a black-and-white plaid shirt and khakis. He furiously unpacked his bags — shorts, shirts, cleats, gloves — that still had the United Airlines tags on them and tried to make himself at home in a place that was like so many others he’d been, yet entirely foreign.
Anthony Rendon arrived in the major leagues on Sunday, joining the Nationals for their final game in New York. One day after he was preparing for a doubleheader in Double-A Harrisburg, Rendon took a cab from Manhattan to Citi Field with veteran Chad Tracy. He was batting sixth and playing third base in the big leagues.
“In the cab ride over here I was like, ‘Dang, I guess it’s really happening,’” said Rendon, the Nationals’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft. “It finally set in on the walk from the tunnel over here (that) I get to be in a locker room like this, take batting practice.
“It’s like, ‘Hey. We’re here.’”
Rendon was added to the Nationals’ roster because they placed third baseman Ryan Zimmerman on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Thursday, April 18, with a left hamstring strain. And while the 22-year-old out of Rice University may have always known his time in the big leagues was coming, he did not expect it to arrive so early this season.
While the Nationals had sent Zimmerman for an MRI on his hamstring Saturday afternoon, Rendon prepared for a doubleheader in Harrisburg. Shortly before the first game, as Rendon showered, manager Matt LeCroy peeled back the curtain and sternly told the infielder he needed to see him in his office immediately.
“I’m like ‘Oh jeeze, what did I do now?’” Rendon said in his typically laid-back tone. “He’s always picking on me or whatever. I finally got out of the shower and went to the office.”
At first he didn’t believe LeCroy, asking the manager if he was serious about what he was telling him. When he realized that he was, when he realized that he’d just been made a major leaguer, he immediately called his parents, Rene and Bridget, in Houston.
His mother cried. One the other end of the phone, her son’s eyes filled with a few tears of his own.
“It was pretty emotional, obviously, especially my mom,” Rendon said, joking with reporters not to spread his teary-eyed moment around too much. “They’re excited… It was good. It was a good moment.”
Rendon, who had never been to Manhattan before Saturday night, accepted a few handshakes and hugs from his teammates throughout the morning as they passed by his locker, which was sandwiched between right-hander Henry Rodriguez and batting practice coach Ali Modami.
They asked how he was doing. He smiled, looked around, and said “better now.” They laughed.
“Nice hair,” pitching coach Steve McCatty quipped of Rendon’s curls, immediately after congratulating him on his call-up.
Slowly, he began to learn his way around. He found the players’ dining room and made his way to the 11 a.m. chapel session. Clubhouse manager Mike Wallace checked in with him a few times to make sure he had all the gear he needed. A bigger hat was in order to account for all that hair.
He was asked, as he took in the scene, if he felt ready to be a major leaguer.
“There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to be here,” said Rendon, who has played in just 57 minor league games. “I’m pretty confident. I’m a confident person, at least I try to be. I try to do the best that I can in everything I do and we’ll just see how it plays out.”
In those 57 games, Rendon owns a .249 average with eight home runs and a .391 on-base percentage. But those numbers are deceptive as a fractured ankle robbed him of the majority of his rookie professional season.
This year with Harrisburg, in 48 at-bats, Rendon is hitting .292 with four homers and a .462 on-base percentage — courtesy of an eye-popping 14 walks.
“He’s a guy we think is going to be a long-term part of the organization,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “So we thought it was a good time, until Zim gets back full-time… I would think that when Zim comes back we’ll probably send him back down for more seasoning, but we’ll take that as it comes. We see him as a long-term component of the team.”
As the morning wore on and the clock inched toward 11:30, Rendon began to prepare himself for batting practice. He put on his new uniform and ripped the tags off all of the appropriate outerwear he needed to combat the low 40s temperatures that had descended on the city.
His parents couldn’t make it to New York in time, a ticketing snafu resulting in a lost reservation that squashed their hastily made but highly anticipated plans to be there for their son’s debut. Instead they’ll head to D.C. late on Sunday night and prepare to be in the stands on Monday when the Nationals return.
He did not know how long he would be with the Nationals, with Zimmerman eligible to come off the disabled list on May 3. He didn’t care.
“I’ll just try to take advantage of it,” Rendon said. “I’m going to try to play my game. I’m going to try to do the best that I can. We’ll see what happens.”
His promotion came because of an injury to their cornerstone, one the Nationals want to knock out quickly and not allow to linger deep into a season that holds so much promise. Rendon, once thought of only as a part of what was to come, is a part of this season now. A part of this team.
“We get to see a part of our future sooner than we all expected,” Rizzo said.