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A Rice World Series

Illustrated by Milkessa Gaga

By Ben Baker-Katz     10/22/19 9:04pm

Once called the “complete player” by former Rice baseball head coach Wayne Graham, former Rice student and MLB All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon kicked off the World Series with the Washington Nationals last night against the Houston Astros.

The former Rice star, who played for the Owls from 2009-2011, had an MVP-caliber campaign in the 2019 regular season, posting a .319 batting average with 34 home runs and an MLB-leading 126 runs batted in. Additionally, Rendon’s defense has been on display during the regular season and playoffs, including three separate run-saving catches against the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. 

Astros star pitcher Gerrit Cole, who is one of the frontrunners for the 2019 American League Cy Young Award, said that Rendon poses problems for pitchers with his hitting ability. 

“[Rendon] is one of the greatest hitters in the game,” Cole said in a recent press conference. “There is no real way to get him out. You kind of hope he misses some balls or scorches them right at your guys.” 

During his seven-year career, Rendon has posted 32.7 career wins above replacement — a statistic widely used in baseball circles to evaluate player value — according to Fangraphs, placing him third among active players who have played seven seasons or fewer. When his contract expires this season, he is likely to sign a long-term contract worth more than the $210 million contract offer he reportedly turned down from the Nationals earlier this year. 

According to Nationals manager Dave Martinez, Rendon deserves to win multiple awards this year. 

“For us, he’s the guy that makes our lineup go,” Martinez told NBCSports Washington earlier this month. “I think he’s the MVP, [and] I think he should [also] win a Gold Glove this year. He’s been phenomenal this year, all the way around.” 

Rendon has been impressing coaches long before he reached the major leagues. According to John Sullivan, assistant communications director for Rice Athletics, when Rendon was still an Owl, an opposing coach said a play by Rendon during an NCAA Tournament game caught his eye: When a low dribbler was hit up the line at Rendon, he simultaneously charged in on the ball and rubbed his throwing hand on his pants leg. According to the coach, Rendon must have already been thinking that he didn’t want the ball to slip, in case he had to make a barehanded play. 

“I mean, just how slow does this game seem to him compared to the rest of us?” the coach asked.

At Rice, Rendon made an immediate impact when he arrived on campus. During his freshman year, he led Conference USA in batting average, slugging percentage and home runs. He was also named National Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball and was a national semifinalist for both the Dick Howser Trophy (presented to the top national college baseball player) and the Golden Spikes Award (awarded to the United States’ top amateur player). 

Rendon’s sophomore season was even more productive than his freshman one. He won the Dick Howser Trophy, along with two other National Player of the Year awards. He was again among the nation’s leaders in home runs and RBIs, and he was named to the U.S. National Team before being sidelined with an injury. In honor of his success on the field, then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the city council designated June 29, 2010 “Anthony Rendon Day in Houston.”

Rendon was widely regarded as one of the top talents in the 2011 MLB Draft, and was projected to go in the top two picks by multiple mock drafts. But due to injuries, he dropped to the sixth pick where the Nationals selected him. 

Rendon will be hitting third and playing third base tonight in game two of the World Series. The game will get underway in Minute Maid Park at 7:07 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox. 

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