Half of the time, he is wielding a bat and a glove. The other half, his tools of trade include a pen and notepad, or a keyboard, and the thoughts swirling in his head.
Half the year, the 23-year-old lives on the West Coast with a host family in Dixon. The rest of his time is spent in the Big Apple, a stranger among millions while attending New York University.
Half the day, he's focused on one passion: perfecting his swing and visualizing his Major League dreams. The other half, his artistic side kicks in: grasping for words, organizing ideas, expressing his heart.
The River Cats infielder is more than just a baseball player. Sure, he's talented with a bat in his hand. But Cardenas is a complex person with the kind of depth that makes him easy to support.
Growing up in Miami, Cardenas' curiosity lured him into the arts and baseball, even his carnivorous diet (in a vegetarian household). With his father's collection of CDs and films, the arts were something that was a staple in his household.
"I think the way my dad is in general is what got me to be artsy and expressing myself creatively," Cardenas said. "So naturally I grew up when I was 10 or 12 years old having to go in the car and hear Nina Simone or Etta James. It's something that got engrained in me at an early age."
It was his mom's cousin, whom Cardenas considers to be his uncle, who got him onto his first Little League baseball team. Baseball followed him through the rest of his childhood and into Monsignor Pace High School, where he played with Oakland A's pitcher and former River Cat Gio Gonzalez.
The high school team was known for choking in the playoffs, losing in the first round two years in a row. The team was ranked No. 1 in the country during his sophomore and junior years, and after one season 10 players were drafted. But the team would finally catch a break.
As a senior, Cardenas helped his team win the 2006 state championship. A month later, he was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft, No. 37 overall.
Since Cardenas began playing professional baseball, he spent his Minor League off-seasons either traveling or playing more baseball in fall leagues. It was last year that he decided to take the leap and apply to New York University to pursue another passion - writing.
"With writing, for instance, everything is so fickle," Cardenas said. "One day you feel like you're writing the next Pulitzer, but most days your feel like you're writing in a foreign language, which is crazy. It's a lot like baseball. One day you're on top of the world and go 3-for-4 or 4-for-4 and you make these diving plays to win a ball game and the next you go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and an error that was a big part in costing the team the game."
His two worlds collided in extraordinary fashion last fall.
His first day at NYU was set for Sept. 7. The River Cats regular season finale ended on Sept. 6. Cardenas would have to play the Sky Sox in Colorado Springs then take a red-eye flight to New York that night to be on time for his first college course.
But another twist increased the degree of difficulty: Sacramento made the playoffs, which started on Sept. 8. Missing class wasn't an option, as NYU mandates that students who miss the first two weeks of class must defer admittance and take a leave of absence. So, instead of deferring his enrollment, Cardenas flew to New York after the regular-season finale and made it in time for the first day of school. After attending all his classes, he flew back across the country that night to play second base in the playoffs.
"Thank God the flight wasn't postponed," Cardenas said. "But I had to, and we ended up losing in the first round anyway so I didn't miss any class. It was a lot of miles but I really wanted to do it."
That commitment and focus allows Cardenas to excel in both his worlds.
Currently majoring in creative writing, Cardenas said he plans to double major in philosophy or film studies.
"He's an extremely bright guy," said outfielder Michael Taylor, who spent time in the Phillies organization with Cardenas. "More than anything, you can kind of get lost in this lifestyle in the fact that you do it everyday and there's not a whole lot of variety in your lifestyle. It's nice to be able to escape it a little bit, whether it's him doing homework on his down time or just having a different train of thought. To be young and be bright and go back to school, I was really happy for him."
Cardenas writes many different things in his notebook, from quotes to lyrics to music. He has a passion for a writing style called magical realism, a style utilized by his favorite author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It mixes magical elements that create a realistic environment in which a deeper level of a reality can be understood. One quote, scrawled in calligraphy, sits in the front a black notebook: "Just live life, it's romanticizing enough."
Cardenas translates: "Don't let life pass by while you are fantasizing about things that could happen," he says. Cardenas exemplifies this quote with his talents and passions. He has played piano since he was a kid. He plays with the focus, speed and precision of a professional musician.
"I grew up playing music," Cardenas said. "My parents actually don't know anything about baseball, which is really funny. Even to this day."
It's fine by Cardenas that his parents, who live in Florida, aren't exactly bleacher bums. But he has found a home away from home with a family that happens to know baseball.
In 2009 and 2010, Cardenas played with the Midland RockHounds and became friends with the team's athletic trainer, Justin Whitehouse. Justin's parents, Kristy and Ken, who live in Dixon, took in Cardenas this season.
Kristy said she considers Cardenas to be one of her own children. His pictures even appear on her shelf of framed pictures of her kids.
Two families sound about right for a guy who lives a double life.