Lombardozzi's homecoming is National news
Former Atholton star is now a big leaguer
Atholton graduate Steve Lombardozzi, center, flanked by his parents Jill and Steve Sr., was named the Washington Nationals minor league Player of the Year. (Staff photo by Brian Krista, Patuxent Publishing / September 8, 2011)
Jill and Steve Lombardozzi couldn't be more proud.
That's because their son, Steve Lombardozzi Jr., was promoted to the Washington Nationals after three seasons in the minors and made his big-league debut Sept. 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"They're extremely excited and they've come to all of the games so far," Lombardozzi said of his parents after a 9-3 loss to Houston. "I'm sure they won't miss a home game."
And making a few road games isn't a bad idea, either. His mother, father and sister were in the crowd Sept. 12 at New York's Citi Field when Steve Jr. got his first major-league hit and game-winning RBI as the Nationals beat the New York Mets, 3-2.
"We were going to stay with him until he got it," Steve Sr. toldTheWashington Post. "It was just very emotional, more so than if he would have got it on his first at-bat or his first day. There was a lot of tension built up."
The hit snapped an 0-for-15 start to his career that Lombardozzi was relieved to put to rest.
"It was a big, deep breath afterwards," he told The Post. "To drive the guy in and get an RBI was a pretty awesome feeling."
The 2007 Atholton High graduate was drafted by Washington in 2008 after one season at St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College and progressively moved through the Nationals' farm system. Lombardozzi hit a combined .309 with a .360 on-base percentage with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators and the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs and was named Washington's Minor League Player of the Year.
The former Raiders baseball and basketball standout is in familiar surroundings here as he commutes to the stadium from his father's house in Fulton.
"It's been awesome staying at my dad's house. It's about a 30-minute drive everyday, so it's like a dream come true," said Lombardozzi, who credits his father — the second baseman on the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins — for molding him into the player he is today.
The big day came for Lombardozzi Jr. after the Chiefs' season ended on Sept. 5.
"After our last game (coach Randy Knorr) pulled me into the office and told me. I drove back to where I was staying with my grandparents in Auburn (N.Y.), I packed up and then headed here," Lombardozzi said. "It's a big difference, just everything. Syracuse has real nice facilities, but this is just the best of the best. The clubhouse is just unbelievable, the cafeteria and all of the food they've got for us. Everything is like they say it is."
In his first major league plate appearance as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of a 7-3 loss to the Dodgers Sept. 6, Lombardozzi drew a walk on six pitches.
"We were down two and needed base runners and I was able to get on. It was a pretty awesome feeling just walking to the plate, digging in and to get on base," he said.
Two days later, he got his first start and, despite going 0-for-5, worked a 12-pitch at-bat after fouling off half-a-dozen pitches that announcers credited with tiring out Dodgers starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, leading to a four-run inning for the Nationals.
Even though Lombardozzi didn't have anything to show for it, teammates and managers alike were noticing how Lombardozzi was working deep into counts and approaching all aspects of the game as a professional
"He's an awesome teammate and a great guy. He plays hard everyday," said Nationals first baseman Chris Marrero, who was also Lombardozzi's teammate in Syracuse.
Manager Davey Johnson kept tabs on Lombardozzi's progress through the minor leagues and was eager to get him into the Nationals' dugout.
"I like what I've seen … he knows how to play. He's hit a couple of balls on the button, but, by and large, he hasn't really gotten into a comfort zone," Johnson said before the Sept. 10 game. "He's probably been a little more keyed up than anything else, but I'm sure he'll be fine."
Since being called up, life has been a bit more hectic for Lombardozzi.
On Sept. 10, for example, he conducted interviews with the media, met with family and friends, took part in batting practice, fielding practice and team stretching drills and accepted the award as the Nationals Minor League Player of the Year in a pre-game ceremony.
"I'm trying to take everything in and enjoy it. The last three or four days have been pretty crazy, but in a good way," he said. "It's just been nothing but fun and real exciting for me."
Lombardozzi had a special guest on hand for his Minor League Player of the Year ceremony: 9-year-old Kobe Stenson.
Dernell Stenson, a Cincinnati Reds prospect, was murdered while playing in the Arizona Fall League in 2003. The Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award, which goes to the AFL player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership, was awarded to Lombardozzi in 2010.
After meeting Kobe and his grandfather before a Chiefs game this summer, Lombardozzi took a special interest in the youngster, who lost his father at an early age.
"Any chance I get if there's a young kid around I love to hang out with them or make them smile, because I know when I was young it was awesome to get to hang out with big leaguers," Lombardozzi told MASN.
Lombardozzi can also count his former coach at Atholton, Kevin Kelly, amongst his biggest fans. The two still keep in touch on an almost daily basis, and Kelly has seen almost all of his games, either on television or in person.
"I've become a big Nationals fan now," said Kelly. "I couldn't be more proud of him. He was 5-foot-2 and 105 pounds as a ninth grader … but I can tell you stories about him being out there (practicing on the Atholton baseball field) until 9 p.m. It all goes back to his work ethic … as a coach, shoot, I know I loved it."