More than a month had passed since the Angels had their last day off in Southern California. When one finally rolled around Monday, rookie Luis Rengifo took advantage of it.
He made an appointment at a tattoo shop about five miles from Angel Stadium. He wandered in to meet an artist recommended to him by Angels minor leaguer Jose Rojas, an Anaheim native, and gathered his wits.
Rengifo had never been inked before. He was terrified it would hurt.
And it did, he said a few days later. The tattoo took all of five minutes to be etched. He was in pain the entire session.
But when he turned his left forearm over and saw his son’s name, Maximiliano, scripted across his skin in an elegant cursive font, relief washed over him.
“He gives me strength,” he said in Spanish.
Perhaps in more ways than one.
Entering Sunday’s game against the Oakland Athletics, Rengifo had batted .333 (16 for 48) in his last 13 games. Rengifo also hit four doubles and two home runs in that stretch — one of them the day after getting his tattoo.
The Angels’ 22-year-old infielder became a father in early March, only a few days after letting team officials know for the first time that his wife, Alba, was about to deliver the couple’s first child.
Rengifo has been on the run since.
While Maximiliano has grown, Rengifo has made a splash. He has impressed the Angels’ coaching staff with stellar defense on both sides of second base. He has started to come around with the bat, too, enough that when the Angels reinstated Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons from the injured list they decided to keep Rengifo on the major league roster instead of optioning him to triple-A Salt Lake.
Since breaking out of an 0-for-11 skid with an eighth-inning single June 14, the switch-hitter had improved his on-base-plus-slugging percentage 100 points to .694. He had reached base in 11 of 12 games.
All the while, he showed off the extra-base pop that Angels manager Brad Ausmus has fawned over all year.
“He just has so much power for such a small guy,” he said earlier this month of Rengifo, who is listed generously at 5 foot 10 and 195 pounds. “I think he could be a really dynamic player.”
The Angels have rewarded Rengifo’s dynamism often since acquiring him in a March 2018 trade. They sent him through the system so quickly last year that he had jumped from Class A Inland Empire to Salt Lake by the end of the season.
This year, he has ridden a similar wave. His career has taken him from spring training in Arizona to opening day with the Salt Lake Bees on April 4 to his major league debut at Angel Stadium three weeks later. He has been sent back to Salt Lake twice, but not since May 21.
Rengifo’s wife and child have traversed the country too. They have just rarely been able to do so at the same time. His wife has spent the months since giving birth living with her sister in New York. She booked a flight for herself and Maximiliano to visit Utah in late April, but their travel plans were scuttled by Rengifo’s sudden promotion.
Rengifo and family members have reunited briefly since his whirlwind season brought him to Anaheim two months ago, but they remain separated by the demands of a full baseball season. The only thing that has helped Rengifo bridge the gap is cellphone technology. He spent one of his daily video chats showing off his fresh ink to Maximiliano.
The 4-month-old, Rengifo said, loved it.