HOUSTON (AP) — Anthony Rendon vividly remembers his one visit to the Astrodome as a child to see the Houston Astros and his beloved Killer B’s.
“I was really young at that time but that memory still sticks in my head,” the Washington Nationals star said.
And along with the excitement of seeing Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Derek Bell, something else is seared in his senses. It has to do with the condition of the once-famed stadium that was in disrepair near the end of its run as the home of the Astros.
“It was a very smelly place,” he said. “We got a tour, a behind the scenes kind of deal, and that place was really dirty and really stinky.”
This week Rendon is back in his hometown, and it’s not as a fan. Instead, he’s leading the Nationals to their first World Series against the team he rooted for as a child.
The Astrodome has long been closed and he’ll get a chance to put on a show for friends and family in the domed (and very pleasant smelling) confines of Minute Maid Park.
The third baseman laughed and shook his head when asked how many tickets he’ll have to get for Game 1 on Tuesday night.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I can’t put a number out there but it’s definitely going to be a lot.”
And he made a rule for all his Houston people coming to the game: If he gets them a ticket, they have to root for the Nationals.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Definitely.”
Rendon is notoriously low-key and rarely shows much emotion on the field. He admitted this week will be a bit different after spending his entire life in Houston before the Nationals drafted him out of Rice with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft.
“As a kid growing up, obviously you want to play for the hometown team,” he said. “But I think this will do.”
Before Rendon starred at Rice, he was a standout player for Lamar High School, which sits in Houston’s posh River Oaks neighborhood. David Munoz was an assistant at Lamar when Rendon was there, and remains at the school as the head coach.
Munoz still keeps in touch with Rendon and raved about his former pupil.
“His most enduring quality is that he has not changed,” Munoz said Monday. “This is a kid who is still someone who is not caught up in any kind of anything. Ego. Brand. A very selfless person. He’s the same person he was when he was at Lamar.”
Something else that hasn’t changed about Rendon, who led the National League with 126 RBIs this season, since he was a teenager is his knack for making big plays.
“The thing that set him apart more than anything else was his ability to come through in clutch situations for us,” Munoz said. “The bigger the situation, the better he was. And his demeanor never changed. Very calm. Always smiling.”
He wore that big smile at World Series media day on Monday as hordes of reporters crowded around him, jockeying for position and shouting questions over each other. The beginning of his interview was interrupted by teammate Kurt Suzuki walking by, noticing the crowd and yelling: “We get it, you’re from Houston.”
Suzuki was mocking the attention that Rendon was getting, but his status in Houston is no laughing matter. Rendon was such a big deal while playing for the Owls that then-mayor Annise Parker honored him with ‘Anthony Rendon Day’ after he won the Dick Howser Trophy Winner as the National Player of the Year in 2010.
Rendon thinks Parker might have been a bit biased since she was a Rice alumna, but he was thrilled by the honor nonetheless. Although there was a little bit of a letdown when he realized what the ceremony would entail.
“You hear all these stories like so and so he plays for the Rockets or he’s the best fireman in the world, he gets a key to the city,” Rendon said. “That’s what was going through my mind and I was like: ‘I’m about to get a key to the city.’ And she just hands me like this piece of paper. But it was still an awesome experience.”
Though Rendon has spent his entire major league career in the nation’s capital, he’s never wavered in his love for Houston and said Monday that is something that will never change.
“This is my city for sure,” he said. “Born and raised. Still live here in the offseason and I don’t plan on leaving.”
So this week he’ll hit up some of his favorite taquerias because he can’t get Mexican food up to his standards in Washington, and will probably grab some barbecue at his college haunt Demeris Bar-B-Q. Then he’ll try and make sure his team doesn’t end up like the 2005 Astros, who made a run similar to Washington’s turnaround to reach their first World Series.
“Hopefully that’s not our fate,” he said. “They got swept.”
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