- - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Toni Lombardozzi’s Facebook page lists her three favorite athletes, from left to right.

The first two are soccer stars David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps a nod to her own soccer career at River Hill High in Clarksville, Md.

And the third athlete listed? That would be her brother, Stephen Lombardozzi, a promising middle infielder in the Washington Nationals’ minor league system.

So will Lombardozzi, who played at Atholton High in Columbia, move up the list if and when he makes it to the major leagues, which could happen sooner rather than later?

“He is my No. 1, obviously,” Toni, 25, who runs an Abercrombie & Fitch store in New York, said with a laugh.

Lombardozzi, 22, is a switch-hitting second baseman who is moving quickly through the ranks. He hit .309 with 12 doubles, seven triples and four home runs in 65 games for Double-A Harrisburg to begin the season before being promoted to Triple-A Syracuse last month. He has hit .348 in 20 games since moving up.

Listed as the 13th-best prospect in the Nats’ system by Baseball America, Lombardozzi played one year at St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College before he was taken in the 19th round by Washington in the 2008 draft.

“He believes in himself, and he is confident in his abilities and is confident he can play at the major league level,” Harrisburg manager Tony Beasley said. “He breaks up double plays. He dives for balls. He takes the extra base. He plays the game tremendously well. He does things you want a player to do.”

Lombardozzi said he does not have an ax to a grind as a 19th-round pick. “It was not a big deal for me. I just wanted to get on the way” to turning pro.

But he adds: “In the back of your mind you want to produce.”

He already has overcome a lot in his life, as he was born with club feet. His mother, Jill Lombardozzi, said his feet were set in casts right away in the hospital and he wore them on a regular basis until he was about 3 months old. “It was a little scary in the beginning. It turned out okay,” she said.

Last year in the Arizona Fall League, Lombardozzi won the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award as he helped the Scottsdale Scorpions win the league title. The award, named for the late Reds prospect, is given to the Fall League player who best exemplifies unselfishness, heart and leadership.

So where does this drive and determination come from? You have to go back to the 1987 World Series, when second baseman Steve Lombardozzi (Stephen’s father) hit .412 to help the Minnesota Twins defeat the St. Louis Cardinals for the title.

“I think it has to do with him,” the infielder said. “I was taught to do everything 100 percent to the fullest. It is the way I was raised.”

His father said he has probably seen his son play 10-15 games this season.

“I can’t help it. I love watching him compete,” said the elder Lombardozzi.

Stephen Lombardozzi was born in Minnesota in September 1988, less than a year after his father played in the Fall Classic. The Nats prospect remembers stories from his father about late Twins star Kirby Puckett, who also played the game all-out.

“He does everything well. He is always in the right place on the field,” said longtime major leaguer Bob Boone, the Nationals’ assistant general manager. “He was trained by his dad and is far ahead of most players. He is going to be a good big leaguer.”

Some may view Lombardozzi as a future reserve middle infielder to shortstop Ian Desmond, 25, and second baseman Danny Espinosa, 24, with the Nationals. But Doug Harris, the director of player development, said Lombardozzi has what it takes to be a regular second baseman in the majors.

The Nationals also are making sure that Lombardozzi plays occasionally at shortstop, a position that he played in high school, junior college and at times in the Arizona Fall League. “We want to keep him fresh on that side of the field,” Harris said.

“I think it is good. I love it and it is something I need to do,” Lombardozzi said of manning the position. “The more flexibility that I have the better.”

The infielder already has been to Nationals Park a few times with his father. One day in the near future he may be there as an infielder for the Nats.

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