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A Nats undrafted rookie signee surprised his dad at work, and the video went viral

RobertAnthony Cruz with his mom, Cynthia, and dad, Ron. (Courtesy of RobertAnthony Cruz)

After the final 10 rounds of the MLB draft came and went Tuesday without RobertAnthony Cruz hearing his name called, the Biola University junior infielder was playing “Minecraft” at his Riverside, Calif., home to take his mind off the disappointment.

As Cruz’s thoughts wandered to how he would spend the final year of his college eligibility and whether he would even play baseball, Mark Baca, the Washington Nationals’ assistant director for amateur scouting, called to say the team was interested in signing him as an undrafted free agent.

“I hadn’t spoken to scouts in at least a week, so I was thinking I probably wasn’t being considered,” Cruz, who cried tears of joy with his mom, Cynthia, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Cruz decided a simple phone call wouldn’t suffice to break the good news to his father, Ron, who was at work as a mechanic. He and his mom drove to a nearby Lids and bought the only two Nationals hats in the store before heading to Firestone Complete Auto Care.

Cynthia used her son’s phone to record a video as he entered the shop and was congratulated by one of his dad’s co-workers, who joked that he needed to pursue a trade to the hometown Los Angeles Dodgers. He eventually found his dad, looking quite surprised, in a back room.

“What happened?” Ron, 61, asked, before noticing the curly W cap on RobertAnthony’s head and the matching cap in his hand, then giving him an emotional hug. “Oh, my God, congratulations, son. I’m proud of you.”

The video, which Cruz posted on TikTok, went viral and had been viewed more than 14 million times as of Thursday afternoon, increasing his follower account on the social media platform from roughly 2,000 to nearly 130,000 in two days.

“Since I was about 9 years old, my dad has always thrown me batting practice whenever he gets off work,” Cruz said. “He’ll work a long day, and I’m sure he’s tired, but he’s never said no one time. Last summer, with covid and everything, I didn’t have anywhere to train. He was throwing me batting practice every day after work. It was super special to be able to celebrate him a little bit with that video because he’s the hardest worker I know.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Cruz played his freshman season at UC Riverside before transferring to Biola, a Division II school in southeast Los Angeles County. He played his way onto the Nationals’ radar with a hot start to the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before batting .384 with a .480 on-base percentage, a .712 slugging percentage, 11 home runs, 38 RBI and eight stolen bases this year.

Cruz, who put down two beer-battered-fish tacos and a green bold burrito during a celebratory lunch with his parents at Del Taco on Tuesday, has a ticket to fly to Florida on Sunday, where he probably will train with the Nationals’ rookie-level team for the next few months. As he transitions to a life of playing baseball full time, Cruz said, he will take a break from the photography business he started in high school and put his work toward his degree in Christian ministries on hold. He is grateful for the opportunity with the Nationals but admitted his lifelong love for the Dodgers won’t easily fade.

“I guess now I’ve got to like the Nationals, just out of obligation, even though they took my team out in 2019,” he said.

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