Tony Renda went hitless in four at-bats. That in itself flustered a kid known for getting on base. He was already in a mini-slump and now a 0-4 performance from the plate only added to his frustrations.
But what ticked Renda off more occurred after the game when he heard from his toughest critic and biggest supporter.
Renda’s father Frank was a no-nonsense, demanding guy who took a straightforward and inflexible view of life. There was only one path to perfection. Nothing less was acceptable.
This was a person who built homes for 20 years, including his own. Frank originally hired others to do it, but ended up constructing the house himself when the work the others did failed to meet his standards. It took eight years for the house to be completed, but the family of five patiently waited, living in a guest house that was on the property until it was time to move in.
Failure is part of baseball where going 3 for 10 is considered stellar. But Renda’s father took a different view and sternly shared that opinion with his son following that one particular 0-4 game Renda’s freshman year at the University of California.
“He got on me,” Renda said.
That’s a polite way of saying Renda got an earful. Renda was used to having his father speak to him like this. Frank’s words were harsh at times, but Renda understood it was never personal.
Frank’s words had one purpose in challenging his son: Wilt under the criticism or push past it.
For Renda, the response was easy. In Renda’s next game out, he said he went 4 for 5. Next game, he went 3 for 4. Message received. Mission accomplished.
“I had to prove him wrong,” Renda said. “It made me happy to please him.”
Renda is considered the best pure hitter in the Washington Nationals’ minor-league system. From his days as a high school all-American at the same high school that produced Barry Bonds and Tom Brady to becoming a Pac-10 player of the year and an all-American at California, Renda could produce from the plate.
It’s why Washington selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft and it’s why he continues to have a high ceiling. In his first full season of pro ball last year, Renda finished second in the minor leagues with 43 doubles.
But for all the attributes that have contributed to his success, nothing has played more of a role than the work ethic he picked up from his parents.
Frank and Larree modeled that attitude throughout their lives. While Frank made a living in the housing industry, Larree rose up through the ranks of the Safeway grocery store chain. Larree started working there at age 16 and now is an executive vice president.
“I would be in spring training and get up at 6:30 a.m. and call her and she was already up,” Renda said, noting the three-hour time difference between Florida, where he was, and California, where his mom was beginning her day at 3:30 a.m.
Putting 12 or 13 hour days in was normal. And it went beyond work. It included cooking dinner, picking up kids, getting them to practices. It was part of the deal.
“She’d go to bed at 11 p.m. and do it all over again the next day,” Renda said. “She never complained.”
Renda showed an early talent for baseball and never stopped finding ways to improve. When he was 12, Renda worked with a hitting instructor who taught him a technique called a no-stride swing.
The change in batting stance simplified Renda’s swing by making it more compact as he relied on his quick wrists and hand-to-eye coordination instead of brute power.
“I had so much success, I never went back,” Renda said.
Renda continued to develop his game in high school when he attended Serra, an all-boys Catholic school in San Mateo, Calif. Renda went there for one reason: the baseball program, which has produced 10 major leaguers.
Renda did well enough to attract the attention of major-league scouts. The Los Angeles Dodgers eventually drafted him in the 42nd round, although the team and Renda knew he was never going to sign.
Fred Costello, the Dodgers’ scout at the time, didn’t get his guy that time, but he did three years later when he signed Renda for $500,000 while scouting for the Washington Nationals.
When Renda learned he was selected by the Dodgers, he was playing for St. Cloud in the Northwoods League. Upon hearing the news, Renda called his father to let him know. Renda told him what team had chosen and him and what round. The conversation was brief and to the point.
“He told me I was going to school,” Renda said. “And I said, “Yeah, I am going to school.”
Frank never got the chance to see his son play professionally. He died July 18, 2010 at his home at the age of 56 of lung cancer. But in everything he does, Renda, who was 19 when Frank passed away, sees his father’s handprint.
Take, for example, the honor Renda received from the Washington Nationals.
For demonstrating “professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, makeup, intangibles and a tremendous work ethic,” Renda was the first-ever recipient of the Bob Boone award. The award is named after Bob Boone, former MLB player and coach and the current Nationals vice president of player personnel.
“He’s the same person every day and I say that affectionately,” said Potomac Nationals manager Tripp Keister, who managed Renda last season in Hagerstown. “That’s his strength. He’s very consistent. He works hard at his craft.”
Renda knows no other way.
“That’s the way I was raised,” Renda said. “You work your tail off. Nothing is earned. You want something, you go get it. There are no handouts.”