- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

VIERA, Fla. — Anthony Rendon needs a headband.

The Washington Nationals’ MVP candidate a year ago was having trouble getting his healthy head of hair under control under his cap during workouts at the team’s spring training complex. He walked over to the trainer’s medical kit and pulled out a roll of bandages. He tore off a piece, wrapped it around his head, and went back on the field to chase more ground balls.

Adidas, Under Armour — get this guy a couple of headbands. He’s Anthony Rendon, for crying out loud.

He’s the guy, who, at the age of 24, in just his second season in Washington, hit 39 doubles, six triples, 21 home runs, drove in 87 runs, scored 111 of them and stole 17 bases while batting .287 and playing a sparkling third base.
He’s the guy who finished fifth in the voting last season for National League MVP.

So, come on, get him a headband.

After all, the guy’s not going to ask for one himself.

The crowd in Viera watched intently as Rendon manufactured one himself and was talking about it after he went back on the field.

He’d just as soon wish that they didn’t notice. But it’s getting harder to ignore the best player on the most talented team in the majors.

“When we drafted him [with the sixth selection in 2011], we thought he had a chance to win a couple of Gold Gloves at third base,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He is that good a defender. He has that good range. We thought he would be a high average hitter with power, a middle-of-the-lineup guy. All the superlatives that were said of him at draft time have really come to fruition early in his career.”

Attention will be paid, no matter how much Rendon, who grew up in Texas, would rather you not make a big deal about him.

He arrived at spring training a few days earlier than the reporting date for position players, and, when reporters went to talk to him, he laughed and said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice me.” Then he said since technically he wasn’t supposed to be in camp yet, he wouldn’t talk until the reporting date — all with a smile on his face.

It’s not a sullen attitude. It’s just not what is important to him.

“He doesn’t let outside influences bother him,” Rizzo said. “It’s remarkable the focus that he has. He really keeps it simple.”

It wasn’t a simple decision for Rizzo to draft Rendon with the team’s first pick in 2011. Named College Player of the Year as a sophomore at Rice by Baseball America, he could have been the number one pick of the 2011 draft, but ankle and shoulder injuries scared some teams off.

Not Rizzo.

“Other teams had more apprehension than we did,” he said. “I saw this guy play since he was in high school. I told our guys if he falls down to us, we’re taking him. I had seen him so many times in my scouting. I purposely didn’t go see him in that draft year because I thought it would raise too many red flags that we had interest in him. Our strategy was he was really strong on our board. We had known his character and makeup. We knew him so well, and we knew his ability so well. We had reports on him since he was a junior in high school. We knew he was a special type of all-around player.”

He may be special, but he doesn’t act like it — and apparently, in the Nationals clubhouse, isn’t treated that way, either.

In the team’s spring training clubhouse, there is a certain pecking order of status that comes with lockers.

A handful of them are double lockers, while most of the other are just single lockers with half the space — and status.

As you walk into the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium, rungs on the status ladder start at the bottom, and, for the most part, rise to the top at the end of the room — where the eight wide lockers are located.

Cutter Dykstra is at one end. Ryan Zimmerman is at the other. You can guess which end is which.

Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Yunel Escobar, Denard Span and Wilson Ramos occupy the double locker. Then the single lockers begin with the other catchers in camp — Jose Lobaton, Sandy Leon, Dan Butler, Steve Lenard, Pedro Saverino and Spencer Kieboon.

Finally, in the middle of the clubhouse, hidden between Kieboon and Tyler Moore, is Rendon, perhaps the best player on the team, the one you would think would be worthy of double-locker status.

Why is Rendon buried with the guys fighting for jobs?

“It was one he had last year,” clubhouse manager Mike Wallace said.

Harper, even with the fanfare, didn’t arrive with elite training camp locker status. Escobar is a newcomer. You would think given that Rendon would rank ahead of him. But Escobar, with eight years in the majors, has more service time.

So there is Rendon, buried on skid row, among the guys who may wind up in Triple-A Syracuse this year.

“That guy, he doesn’t care,” Wallace said.

“He doesn’t care about status,” Rizzo said, “He cares about his game. He has an inner fire to him, but not a big ego.”

OK, at least his locker isn’t next to Dykstra’s. But come on, get the kid a headband.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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