Path to the Draft: Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood
Family next door had immense impact on top-ranked prospect's baseball upbringing
The spring before the Draft can be full of excitement and pressure for amateur players hoping to be selected by a Major League organization. Those in the discussion for top of the first round face even more scrutiny as June approaches. MLB.com is following Brendan Rodgers, ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list, throughout the process. From the start of his senior year at Lake Mary High School outside of Orlando, Fla., all the way through the Draft on June 8-10, Rodgers has given MLB.com full access to his life as the top Draft prospect in the country.
LAKE MARY, Fla. -- Whatever Brendan Rodgers is able to do in this game, he's always going to owe a debt of gratitude to the Nenna family.
Perhaps everyone has to get by with a little help from their friends, but if the Rodgers family hadn't moved to this area north of Orlando, if the Nennas hadn't lived next door and if Rodgers hadn't wandered over at a young age to check out the batting cage they had in the back yard, the odds that people would be talking about him as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2015 Draft would be very slim.
"My dad would pitch to us, and Brendan would always hit the baseball, even though he always played soccer," said Brad Nenna, who isn't just Rodgers' neighbor and best friend but also the senior catcher on the Lake Mary High school baseball team. "My dad said, 'Oh, you should try baseball.' We got him in our league, his [birthday] was the perfect cutoff date to play. He's been good ever since."
Good, of course, is a bit of an understatement, as Rodgers' name continues to be bandied about at the top of the Draft. He's hit .385 for Lake Mary with eight homers and seven doubles in 70 at-bats, driving in 24 runs. But Rodgers knows that what lies ahead is directly tied to what happened in his past.
"I got to grow up next to a neighbor, a best friend," said Rodgers. "I've grown up with him ever since elementary school, middle school, now high school. If it weren't for him and his dad, I wouldn't be where I am today."
Don't look for Rodgers to forget that, either. A day spent with his teammates and his coach clearly points to a young man who, despite all the adulation and attention he's received, has his head squarely on his shoulders. Rodgers might know he's good -- to play at the level he's capable of, there has to be a healthy dose of confidence -- but there is nary a hint of a "Big Man on Campus" attitude.
Rodgers lets his play do the talking, though he has taken on a more vocal role as a team leader. His teammates, though, are more than happy to speak up on his behalf, often with tones of awe.
"There's at least one time a game, it just blows my mind what he can do," senior third baseman and pitcher Brett Brubaker said. "Hopefully I'll have a few kids someday, and he'll be on TV and I'll say, 'He's like a brother to me.'"
"I used to always hear how good he was, and he was," junior third baseman/outfielder John Radetsky said. "I used to play against him all the time. He can hit some balls really far. He does some stuff in practice, fielding-wise, that's just crazy. I don't know how he does it."
Even coach Allen Tuttle, who's been at Lake Mary so long the field is named after him, isn't shy about heaping praise upon his senior shortstop.
"I had heard about him and thought, 'No way he can be that good,'" Tuttle said. "He came in and he could've started at shortstop his first year. We tried to keep him humble and put him at second base for a year. We were playing over in Daytona Beach his freshman year, and we won a game on a bomb he hit over the left-field fence. The next morning, the Twitter world lit up saying he was using an illegal bat, but he wasn't."
As much as Tuttle and Lake Mary have been impacted by what Rodgers can do with his physical tools, it might be how he's grown into his leadership role that stands out the most. Case in point is his relationship with sophomore shortstop Jared Batista. Rodgers could easily be focused only on himself and his performance in front of the scores of scouts who watch his every move.
Even a team-first guy who wants to win a state championship, as Rodgers appears to be, could be excused if he only looked at the here and now of the 2015 season. Would mentoring an understudy who will take over after he's gone really be on his radar? Evidently, the answer is yes.
"Every practice, he's out there teaching me stuff, giving me advice on how to play shortstop," Batista said. "He's helped me a lot with my backhands and a little bit of placement when you're fielding and throws and stuff like that."
"I didn't really have someone to guide me through shortstop," Rodgers said. "I was young and all the seniors graduated, so I was pretty much on my own. The kid is really good, he's really talented. He has good hands, good footwork. He could play D1 baseball any day."
It's that attitude, the willingness to remember how he got to where he is, and the eagerness to pass it along that might be Rodgers' legacy as a Lake Mary High School star. How he has gone about his business could have a larger imprint than his name being sprinkled throughout the school's record books.
"I hope that my players have learned even more from him than I have, because if they do what he's done, if they go out and practice like he does, then we're going to continue to have a good program here," Tuttle said.