The Chicago infielder/outfielder was called up May 7 and immediately felt like a kid in a candy store.
"I was so overwhelmed at first," he said. "I was just sitting back, watching everything and saying, 'Is this really happening to me?'"
Now, after eight days in the show, Cardenas is proving that he belongs.
The Miami native got his first big league hit on Saturday, a double off Jose Veras in the eighth inning of an 8-2 loss at Milwaukee.
Cardenas, who was claimed off wavers from the Oakland A's in February, has appeared in six games with a pair of starts. He made his debut just hours after receiving the callup and pinch-hit against Atlanta. Two days later, the versatile Cardenas was in the starting lineup at second base.
It was at that point that all of the hoopla of the previous 48 hours finally sunk in.
"Chipper [Jones] hit a ball to me and I realized that it's the same game up here that it is in the Minors," he said. "The atmosphere might be a little bit more intense, but it's still baseball."
The 24-year-old hopes to stick around. He can play a variety of positions, and manager Dale Sveum has already started him in left field and second base. Cardenas has also been used as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement.
Cardenas obtained the ball from his first Major League hit and shipped it, along with a scorecard from the game, to his cousin Rene Couto, a former wide receiver at the University of Louisville. The two have formed a strong brotherly bond.
"He's stuck with me through my ups and downs," Cardenas says. "My whole family has, but he is the only one who has played sports at a high level."
Cardenas, selected by Philadelphia as a compensation pick after the first round of the 2006 Draft, hit .304 last season for the A's Triple-A farm club in Sacramento. The Cubs kept their eye on him and were there to pounce when the Oakland organization let him go.
A .303 lifetime hitter in the Minors, Cardenas hit .319 with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs with two home runs and 18 RBIs in 26 games.
"It was a relief when I got called up, because it makes me feel that everything I had done all this time has paid off," he said. "Getting here is something no one can ever take away from you."