By Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON — Anthony Rendon has been the perfect fit for his burgeoning new role guiding D.C. youth.

Named a board member to the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy before the season, Rendon now serves as the Nats’ primary player representative at the academy, the mission for which is to foster character development, academic achievement and improved health among children from D.C.’s underserved communities.

Rendon undertook the responsibility in place of Ian Desmond, no small shoes to fill. The former Washington shortstop, now manning center field in Texas, served as a board member from the time of the academy’s March 2014 opening, and really took it to heart. Desmond has since been named Board Emeritus to honor the work he’s done.

Now the responsibility of molding young minds and impressing upon them strong core values is Rendon’s.

The academy has been a work in progress since the Expos relocated to D.C. in 2005. The District, which funded a significant portion of construction costs for the stunning state-of-the-art facility, designated the parcel of land on which it sits — in Fort Dupont Park (Southeast) — in agreement with the National Park Service.

Today the program, as it rises out of its foundational stages, is coming into its own. Rendon’s participation is vital to continue to develop sustainable growth within the community.

On Thursday, the academy held a special event which Rendon helped organize: The Nationals’ eye specialist, Dr. Keith Smithson, provided free eye exams to scholar-athletes who qualified through the academy. Each of those 150 scholar-athletes also received a pair of Nike sunglasses.

Rendon spoke to Harold Reynolds about his growing role within the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy for an upcoming episode of MLB Network’s child-focused “Play Ball,” the same program on which Bryce Harper appeared last week.

Their episodes were both filmed at the academy on the same day in late June. Rendon’s will air Saturday, Aug. 6 at 10 a.m.

From the pearls of wisdom Rendon imparts to the children, you gain a better understanding of why he was an ideal fit for the academy.

Asked for one message he regularly relays, Rendon told Reynolds, “Have fun, whatever you do, and don’t ever doubt yourself. I always tell the kids not to let their size or let anybody else discriminate against what you want to achieve.”

“Just go for it and then give it all you got,” he said. “And at the end of the day, if you give everything you have and you don’t do it, then you know you can at least say you tried.”

“The other thing that is so great about you is giving back,” Reynolds said. “Now, a lot of players give back. You give back time. We’re sitting here at the academy here in Washington, D.C. Why has it been so important for you to get involved here and in kids’ lives?”

“I think I can relate to them a little bit,” Rendon said. “Growing up, I didn’t have all the things in the world. We weren’t the richest family on the block. I have this platform right now. Why aren’t I taking the opportunity to give back? I can talk to them on a similar basis and relate to them in any way possible.”

Rendon played college ball at Rice University, a fiercely competitive school academically. The importance of education, Rendon says, has always been a crucial part of his upbringing.

“It’s always been there,” he said. “My parents, they always harped on education. I couldn’t go outside, or if I didn’t have good grades, I wouldn’t be able to go play baseball or whatnot. Just your typical parents telling you that, but I took it to heart.”

On children playing multiple sports: “Nowadays, everyone’s trying to have these kids be more specialized. Oh, you want to be a pitcher throughout the entire game of playing baseball, or just play soccer, or just play basketball. 

“I feel like you get your coordination from playing multiple sports, because it makes you use your eyes and it’s different movements within each game.”

A few non-academy related questions from the interview:

Reynolds: What’s your favorite celebration with the team right now?

Rendon: Probably our post-game wins. Being out with that group of guys and just having everyone act crazy over a win and celebrating for each other. I think that’s pretty fun.

Reynolds: You guys went from syrup to you name it. On the field, you guys are crazy.

Rendon: Yeah, I don’t condone the syrup part. Our clubhouse manager was probably mad, having to wash those clothes after every game. But it’s always something different every year, and pretty much almost every other week, so it’s pretty exciting.

Reynolds: You play second and you play third, but if you could play another position on the field, what would it be?

Rendon: As a position player, I want to be a pitcher. You know, all the pitchers think they can hit and all the position players think they can pitch. I want to see what I’ve got on that mound. I want to go out there and see if I can at least strike somebody out. Not give up a homer, at least.

(Harper also wants to be a pitcher a closer, we learned in last week’s episode, although, he doesn’t have the best track record.)

Reynolds: Your favorite moment in the big leagues so far?

Rendon: I guess the first thing that comes to mind would be in [2014] when we won our division. That was a pretty good experience. Scott Hairston actually said embrace it at the moment, because this doesn’t happen too often. And it actually hasn’t happened since. Last year, we missed it, so it’s actually a funny feeling not going back last year. So we’re going to try and get to it this year.

Something else you’ll see in Saturday’s episode: Harper giving up taters to academy kids, before they go all Cole Hamels on him with foam baseballs. Click here for information on how to donate to or volunteer at Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter.


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