Rendon remembers 2019, hopes for same outcome with Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The question was kind of a set-up. Anyone who knows Anthony Rendon knew how he’d answer when asked if he’d be sentimental at all playing against the Nationals this weekend.

“No,” the Angels third baseman said with a smirk. “I mean, maybe if it was back in D.C. Then it would probably be a little different, with the fans and whatnot and being familiar with that surrounding. But here, not so much.”

Two and a half years since he last wore a Nats uniform, you’ll be relieved to know Rendon hasn’t changed at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. Now a 31-year-old father of four, not to mention recipient of a seven-year, $245 million contract, he admits he’s a more mature person and recognizes he needs to be a clubhouse leader for the first time in his career.

But deep down, he’s still the same Tony Two Bags who was drafted by the Nationals in 2011, made his major league debut two years later and then over the course of seven seasons established himself as one of the best all-around players in baseball, not to mention one of the most important contributors to the franchise’s first World Series title.

Rendon, believe it not, is already in his third season in Anaheim, and 2019 can feel like a lifetime ago. Especially when he looks across the field tonight and sees Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Patrick Corbin, Tanner Rainey and … well, nobody else who played alongside him in the World Series.

He keeps in touch with Soto, not to mention former teammates like Trea Turner and Michael A. Taylor who also have moved on. He thinks it’s a bit strange how the Nationals dismantled their championship club so quickly, but also knows it’s the cold truth of this industry, in which continuity is exceedingly rare.

“I think a little bit of both,” he said. “It’s a business, first and foremost, right? I think they just had a couple bad-luck incidents the last couple years and they ended up kind of dispersing everybody. It is what it is. That’s why we have phones, to stay in communication with the guys.”

There were plenty of hugs and laughs in between the two teams’ batting practice sessions this afternoon. Rendon, plus fellow former Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki and batting practice pitcher Ali Modami, was greeted warmly by general manager Mike Rizzo, members of the coaching and training staffs and the handful of players who knew them.

Manager Davey Martinez wasn’t sure what to expect when he saw his old third baseman.

“You know, who knows with Anthony,” Martinez said with a laugh. “It could go in different directions. But I just can’t wait to give him a big hug and just say hi.”

Rendon’s first two seasons with the Angels didn’t go as he hoped they would. He played well during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but the team finished fourth in the American League West. Then he was limited to 58 games in 2021, batting a career-worst .240 before undergoing major hip surgery he admits he’s still recovering from now.

The results so far this season have been mixed. Rendon enters tonight’s game batting .222 with a .738 OPS, but he said he’s finally feeling strong in his legs again, which will help his throws across the diamond and his swing at the plate.

“I feel like I’m getting there,” he said. “Getting used to that new body, that new hip, the new legs. I think we’re getting there. We’re winning, though. I’ll keep hitting .200 if we’re winning.”

Indeed, the Angels are playing winning baseball at last, with Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Co. jumping out to a 17-10 start to assume first place in the division.

Rendon sees that as his most important contribution these days. The Angels clubhouse may be loaded with some of the best talent in the game, but it’s short on players who have the ring Rendon earned 2 1/2 years ago.

“I need to help teach this organization, help teach these guys how to win games,” he said. “How do we get there? I’ve been fortunate enough to be on that team when we were in the playoffs almost every year, or maybe every other year. We had a lot of older guys. We were the oldest team in 2019. I just shut up and watched them the whole time. Now if I’m one of those older guys, which I unfortunately am now, that’s my job. That’s my duty, to teach these guys. 'Cause I’m not going to be here forever. So when I leave, hopefully that’s going to stick in their minds. That’s what’s going to matter most, not what I do on the field.”

Not that he makes a point to leave 2019 and the Nationals in his past. Rendon actually has a replica of the Commissioner’s Trophy in his Southern California home. He walks past it every day and remembers what it took to win it.

“It’s a constant reminder,” he said. “And it’s something spectacular. You want to hold onto that. You want to remember. And now, I could bring that here.”

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