Once he showed flashes of his gift at age 3, Adrian Cardenas’ parents had big plans for him. They made sure he practiced on a daily basis. They provided him with the coaching that he’d need to take that talent to the professional level.
But the family of the Oakland Athletics’ infield prospect never imagined their son would become a baseball star.
The talent they encouraged? His remarkably ability as a classical pianist.
“To this day, my parents don’t know anything about baseball and the only reason I’m playing is because I worked so hard at it, not because I had some psycho father or mother bombarding me with demands to get out there and play,” recalled Cardenas, who grew up in Miami. “They were more like that with piano and that’s where I learned discipline. There were many times I wanted to quit and they made me stick with it.”
Until he was in high school, in fact, Cardenas’ life was a three-way split: school, baseball, piano.
“I’d get home from baseball practice at 6 and would have homework and then had to practice piano as much as I practiced baseball,” he said. “Sometimes it was overwhelming. But I grew up with my parents thinking I’d go to Juilliard.”
It wasn’t until his junior year came and he was getting attention from major college programs to play baseball that something had to give and his piano lessons finally fell by the wayside.
With the opportunity to finally focus solely on baseball, Cardenas earned national High School Player of the Year honors as a senior shortstop at Monsignor Pace High School and had committed to play ball at Florida before being selected as a supplemental first-round pick by Philadelphia in 2006.
That summer the left-handed hitter batted .318 in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League before moving up to make his full-season debut at a new position, second base, for Class A Lakewood in 2007 where he hit .295 with nine homers and 79 RBIs, getting a bid to play in the All-Star Futures Game in San Francisco at age 19.
Cardenas (it’s pronounced CARDenas) started the 2008 campaign at Advanced A Clearwater and was batting .307 through 68 games there when the Phillies traded him, along with pitcher Josh Outman and outfielder Matt Spencer, to Oakland in the deal that brought ace Joe Blanton to Philadelphia. Cardenas finished up by hitting .279 between Advanced A Stockton and Double-A Midland down the stretch.
He celebrated his 21st birthday as a member of the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League, where he saw time at shortstop and even third base while helping the club to its fifth consecutive AFL title.
And this winter Cardenas got his first coveted invitation to big league spring training.
“I’d been invited to a couple of games here and there but this is my first actual big league spring training,” said Cardenas. “Right after the fall league I got a call from the As saying I was going to big league camp and I was so pumped up!”
So pumped up that he made the trip from his Florida home to the Phoenix area a few weeks early so he could start working out with his new teammates at the Papago complex.
“I would go over every day and get my workout in there,” he said. “Some of the big league guys were there and they’ve been absolutely great to me so far, and have made me feel really comfortable.”
GOTMILB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Cardenas: That’s a tough question. I think my ability to focus on one thing and not worrying about what people say. I’m good at believing I can do anything once I set my mind to it and for the most part, knock wood, I’ve accomplished everything I’ve set my mind to.
GOTMILB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Cardenas: As baseball players, we’re in the limelight naturally just because of what we do and I think sometimes we need to get out there and be more vocal about the things we feel adamant about. We’re in a position to make things better for people around us, people who aren’t as fortunate, so I think I’d be doing something along those lines.
GOTMILB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
Cardenas: My God, yes. Not so much the piano anymore because it’s hard to carry around, but I mess around with guitar. I’m nowhere near as good on guitar but it’s fun, it’s my escape when I’m worried or stressed.
GOTMILB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Cardenas: Fortunately for me, my parents said that my job was to get good grades and practice my piano. So I never ended up getting jobs other than coaching or teaching kids hitting.
GOTMILB: What is your guiltiest TV pleasure?
Cardenas: “The Office.” I could sit and watch that forever. I love that show.
GOTMILB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?
Cardenas: Bob Dylan.