USA Baseball will announce the winner of the 2010 Golden Spikes Award as part of the festivities surrounding the MLB All Star Game in Anaheim next week, while Anthony Rendon will be on the opposite side of the country, hoping that his name will be on USA Baseball's list as a member of the national team.
While Rendon's name is not among the list of Golden Spikes finalists, his domination of the other annual honors doled over the past several weeks has elevated the slugging third baseman to the rarified position of being a consensus player of the year who will be returning to play another season on the college ranks.
In recent times, Rice's top contenders for national honors have been more reflective of the Owls run of dominating pitchers (Jeff Niemann, Philip Humber, Eddie Degerman) or a two-way threat (Joe Savery), but Rendon's performance over his first two years has sparked a debate about his standing among Rice's greatest offensive threats.
Rendon's 46 homers in his first two years have made Lance Berkman's once formidable total of 67 career homers a plausible goal. No Owl has blasted more homers in his first two years, most notably Berkman, whose career total entering his junior year matched Rendon's output this past season (26).
Yet for all the awe that Berkman's seminal 1997 season inspired after hitting .431 with 41 homers and 134 RBI, he had a far different experience than Rendon when it came to the national awards circuit.
Nominated for several, he only took home the honor from the college baseball writers, who had not yet become affiliated with the Howser Trophy. Florida State's J.D. Drew collected the Golden Spikes as well as the honor from Baseball America, but most shocking of all to local fans was Tim Hudson's selection over both Drew and Berkman for the Bob Smith Award, which was presented in Berkman's backyard of Houston.
"I do remember that I thought I had a chance to win it because I thought I had a pretty good season." Berkman recalled "I wasn't surprised that I didn't win it because there was a lot of media attention on J.D. Drew and Tim Hudson. Tim Hudson won it and I think it was well deserved because he played two ways. I think he went 11-1 on the mound and he hit almost .400 with 20 homers and drove in a bunch of runs."
Wading through lists of numbers compiled against varying degrees of competition in ballparks of equally varying degrees of impact on performance can make the task of selecting one as the premier effort of the year daunting.
"It's so hard to make a determination on who's the best player in the country and who should win the Player of the Year because there's always a lot of great performances, so it's just a high honor to win the thing," Berkman said. "I was glad to be a finalist for the Smith Award and for the Golden Spikes Award. Even though I didn't win either one, I was glad to be there," he recalled.
For his part, Hudson confessed that winning the Smith Award that night was the farthest thing from his mind. He considered it a foregone conclusion that Berkman had the hometown advantage and years later recalled his improvised acceptance speech with a cringe. "It was the worst speech of my life. I had not made any effort to prepare anything. I was certain that Lance would win," he recalled.
Despite the hopes of some, postseason awards are not predictors of future success. Any quick glance of the list of past honorees bears witness to this fact.
That said, Berkman is proud to witness the success that Rendon has fashioned in his first two seasons. "I think clearly it's another feather in Rice's cap for the program to have another player that's been nationally recognized," he noted. "I didn't get a chance to see him play all that much, but everything that everybody says is that he's as good as there's ever been there. I'm happy that another Rice guy is getting recognition. I think Coach Graham continues to do a great job there and crank out some great players."
The expectations on Rendon will only continue to build towards the first pitch of the 2011 season, but Berkman says that the key to handling the heightened expectations will be to following the same, simple approach that has worked for him to this point.
"I feel like when you're going into your draft year there's an extra little bit of pressure and you can build it up to be such a big deal in your own mind. You might think that you have to do something extra special, which is not the case. You have to go out there and play and stay within yourself and be the type of player that you are. You need to avoid putting that in your mind and just go out there and play hard and stay within yourself.
"The other thing is just to work as hard as you can between now and the start of next year so no matter what happens, you can say you did everything you could do."