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Nationals recall memorable MLB debuts as Anthony Rendon arrives

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2013

Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa has a very vivid memory from his major-league debut.

It was Sept. 1, 2010, and the Nats were playing in Florida against the Marlins. Espinosa drove in a run with a double.

That isn't the memory.

"I loved it. It was the day Nyjer Morgan charged the mound," Espinosa said, chuckling about one of the more interesting moments in Nationals history. "Pretty easy to remember."

Espinosa did remember the double, too, and more.

He called joining the big league club a "surreal feeling. You have this feeling, you've finally made it, you've finally made it. You have every emotion in the world running through your head. You don't know what to think or what to feel. You call your parents, and they're more excited than you are."

The subject of debuts came up Monday as the Nationals prepared to open a homestand with a game against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was, if you will, the "mulligan" debut for third base prospect Anthony Rendon. He played in the Nats' 2-0 loss in New York on Sunday, though his parents weren't able to make it in from Houston because of an airline snafu.

Rene and Bridget Rendon made it to town Sunday night, so their son got to share a little bit of extra "debut" excitement with his folks able to watch.

But the reality is, you only get one. It's something that stays with you.

"That's something you never forget. Your debut, you have flashbacks of little league and high school and college ball if you played," said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who had two hits for the Atlanta Braves in his debut April 7, 2004.

"That's been your dream, being on a big-league ballfield, since most of us were probably 5 or 6 years old. You get out there, your name is announced, it's a pretty strange feeling. You've had something on your mind for 15-16 years and it finally happens. It is an incredible feeling. I wish more guys could enjoy it. Your heart is going a million miles, so many things going on. You look back and you almost didn't get to enjoy it at all. It's almost like a wedding."

The Nationals won Ian Desmond's debut Sept. 10, 2009, against the Phillies. Desmond drove in four runs, including three with a home run.

Desmond has played in 466 games since and will play in countless more. That one will always stand out though.

"I don't think anybody in here will ever forget their debut. It's a pretty important part of your life," Desmond said. "You've been working your whole life to get to the big leagues and you finally make it. It is quite the accomplishment. It is better than you can ever imagine. You come to work every day, you have everything you could need and more. Not only that, you get paid for it."

F.P. Santangelo, part of the Nationals' television broadcast crew, jokes that he has two things in common with Mickey Mantle. They wore No. 7 and each had hits from both sides of the plate in their debut.

He was called up from Triple-A Ottawa on Aug. 2, 1995. He showed up for a night game at noon and general manager Bill Stoneman had to let him in the clubhouse. Manager Felipe Alou put him in the lineup. He drove in a run and scored a run in addition to collecting two hits.

"It's the greatest day of your life," Santangelo said. "Bill Stoneman said, 'Don't you think you're early?' I told him, 'I've been waiting for this day my whole life. There's no such thing as early.' He tells that story at speaking engagements.

"The No. 7 was hanging in my locker. It was one of those moments you try not to get choked up. Felipe put me in the lineup that night because I got there at noon. I got two hits, and stayed seven years."

Nationals manager Davey Johnson, now 70 and in what he says is his last year as the team's field boss, was 22 when he made his debut for the Orioles on April 13, 1965. He pinch-hit for pitcher Steve Barber, and struck out.

But, proving perhaps Rendon can indeed take a mulligan, Johnson's most prominent memory from his early days is of another game.

"It was against Whitey Ford and the Yankees. I did get a base hit," Johnson said. "Then he proceeded to pick me off first.

"I remember later in the game I got to third base and Billy Hunter said to me if you get picked off third, we're sending you to Thomasville, Ga. I never got very far off the base the rest of my career. It hurt my stolen base count."

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