Rendon ready for start of Draft, end of hype
Media scrutiny has at times gotten under the skin of Rice slugger
It was the type of fawning a 19-year-old kid could grow accustomed to, an adulation that causes even the most humble to erupt with pride.
Anthony Rendon was not prepared for the scrutiny to come. He spent the weeks following the surgery that repaired his shredded right ankle scouring the Internet and digesting the reports predicting he would be the top bat in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
It was June 2009, and Rendon had recently completed a fabulous debut campaign for Rice, a season that garnered him national Freshman of the Year honors and consensus accolades throughout the scouting community.
The recognition then was flattering, and it served as a striking contrast to what Rendon has endured the past 12 months. After breaking the same ankle while playing for Team USA last summer, Rendon has been the subject of intense examination from seemingly every online crevice. What once felt complimentary turned stressful, so much so that Rendon is eagerly anticipating Monday's Draft for reasons beyond the expected payday and opportunity to finally initiate his professional career.
Rendon just wants all of the madness to cease.
"I really didn't think it would be this big," Rendon said of the pre-Draft attention. "Honestly, I don't even want it to be that big. I just wanted to be a guy that liked to play baseball. I just wanted to be an everyday player. I didn't want to be the big name in the game that's going to take over and everybody looks at. I don't like the attention. I don't like everybody saying, 'Oh, that's that guy. He did that. Let's talk to him.' I just want to be just another guy that plays baseball and loves to play."
After breaking his ankle last summer, Rendon realized that his aspirations for anonymity were fruitless. And while he has produced at the plate through a nagging right shoulder strain that relegated him to designated hitter duties -- he has a batting line of .327/.523/.535 with six homers and 35 RBIs -- and has held firm under the weight of extraordinary expectations, Rendon admits that the hoopla has been distracting.
"I think Anthony has had more pressure than any player I've ever seen in college baseball, because he came in with it," said Owls head coach Wayne Graham. "A lot of guys evolve into it during the year, but he came in with it all year. At the end of last year, he was the [predicted] first pick for this year. It's a pretty big burden placed on him."
Graham was completing his sixth season with Rice in 1997 when the Owls had their first and only No. 1 overall selection -- right-hander Matt Anderson, who was taken by the Detroit Tigers. The hubbub prior to Anderson's selection pales in comparison to what Rendon has encountered thus far, according to Graham.
"Matt Anderson was the first pick, but there was never near any kind of publicity like that," Graham said. "It was like, 'Yeah, he may be a first-rounder or he may be a high pick,' but it never was anything like this. We've never had anything close to this. [Lance] Berkman, we weren't even sure he was going to be a first-rounder [in 1997]."
Eight years ago, Rice had three right-handed pitchers -- Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend -- taken among the top eight picks of the Draft, but the run-up to their selections didn't approach the magnitude of attention heaped upon Rendon.
"Those three pitchers, even though you got a lot of publicity ... before the Draft there wasn't all that hype," said Graham.
One weekend this season was emblematic of how Rendon landed in the crosshairs of the curious.
When the Owls traveled to Greenville, N.C., to face Conference USA rival East Carolina from April 8-10, Rendon couldn't help but notice the unusually large number of scouts on hand. Then came the interview requests following the games inquiring about his injury history, his struggles at the plate and his concerns over the Draft. Meanwhile, Twitter timelines were blowing up with mentions of Rendon, detailing his every at-bat of the three-game series.
Years ago, there were a couple primary sources of online scouting information. Now there are numerous options available for dedicated readers to peruse, featuring writers armed with Twitter accounts and definitive opinions.
When Humber, Niemann and Townsend returned for their junior seasons, their celebrity was largely a function of leading Rice to a national championship the previous season. With Rendon, the focus has been Draft-centric, with the tugging coming from many more directions.
"It got my attention," Rendon said. "I was like, 'Why did they pick this series of all series just to come out here?' I took a step back from it and had to realize what was going on."
No topic has been more grating than Rendon's injuries. The Internet was abuzz after Rendon snapped his ankle trying to slow his momentum between first and second base. Even when he returned for preseason workouts and revealed no signs of lingering ankle problems, the questions persisted. And his shoulder issues, brought about by an aggressive stretching program, have only exacerbated matters.
Rendon is as lauded for his defense at third base as he is for his bat. But because he's been unable to throw free of pain, he has played only eight games in the field. Of course, the narrative turned to his latest setback, following previous online discussions of his surgically repaired ankle and defensive struggles as a freshman.
That online opinions are so prevalent can be maddening for the young slugger.
"It definitely has gotten under my skin," Rendon said. "I know one of the writers said since I had 12 errors my freshman season that I'm not a good defender. That got under my skin. I did take that into consideration and said, 'I've got to prove this guy and everyone else wrong.' That's why I came out my sophomore year and really worked at it and had four errors. I feel like I put an end on that note.
"I really stopped myself from trying to see what people are saying about me. I've had old coaches saying not to worry about it, and the best thing is to have your family not even worry about that, because it will stress them out even more. That's what I've tried to tell my parents, because they'll read something about me [and get upset]. I try to tell them, 'Don't even read about it, don't worry about it, don't take it into consideration.'"
Two summers ago while he surfed the Web, Rendon couldn't have envisioned the future ahead. Now, mere days away from a Draft that will forever change his fortunes, Rendon can't wait for that future.
"It's one more step closer to my dream," he said, "to what I really want to do -- just play baseball and not have to worry about anything else."
Moisekapenda Bower is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.