Every generation in the history of baseball has paved the way for rising young stars. It wasn’t long ago that Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees captured every headline. In the modern era, the stellar play of Mike Trout or Bryce Harper did not go unnoticed. In 2018, the attention and appreciation must be given to 20-year old Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves. Many 20 year olds are in college, or trying to make a difference in the workforce. In the case of Acuna, he blasts baseballs into the upper decks of Sun Trust Park for a living. His passion for baseball is contagious and uncontainable, originated in the early days of his childhood.
“It’s something you’re born with because ever since I started to like baseball, since I saw my cousins, my dad play, it became the sport I love the most” says Acuna. “I always go out and enjoy myself because it’s a kids’ sport, as they say.”
Acuna Inspired to Emulate His Father
The apple doesn’t fall too from the tree when it comes to baseball in the Acuna family. Ronald’s father, Ronald Acuna Sr., had a desire to be a top baseball player in the major leagues. Unlike his son, Acuna Sr. never made it to the pros and became a perennial face in the minor leagues. Playing for eight years in the minors, Acuna Sr. hit .282/.330/.364 for his career, with 18 home runs and 389 RBI. Seeing his father play baseball served as the main impetus for Acuna Jr. to take up the sport.
“My dad was my main motivation, as I got to see him play. I would see him play every day in Venezuela, and I once had the opportunity to come here, and I saw him play in Double-A in 2005 with the Fisher Cats. That really was one of my main motivations as to why I am here today” says Acuna. “He inspired me a lot. He taught me a lot of things about baseball that I didn’t know. You learn new things in baseball every day. He really was a great mentor for me.”
Acuna Lives Up to Expectations
When Acuna entered the pros with the Braves, a large amount of expectations followed him. He was touted as baseball’s number one minor league player and prospect. Many players in the past have had similar predictions to Acuna, but quaked when the pressure of playing professional baseball got too high.
For the young Braves outfielder, the pressure is a privilege. This season, Acuna had seven leadoff home runs, tying with Marquis Grissom for the most leadoff homers by a member of the Braves in a single season. It also put the Braves rising star in a tie for second with Nomar Garciaparra and Hanley Ramirez for most leadoff home runs by a player in a single season.
“You read that stuff on the board, and I’m sitting here watching it, and I don’t realize it’s that good,” manager Brian Snitker said. “You want to make sure you’re up there because you might miss something when he’s at the plate.”
It wasn’t until Game 3 of the NLDS when Acuna’s postseason prowess was born. Down 0-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Braves were on the brink of elimination. Having not scored a run in the first two games, the outlook looked bleak for the NL East champs.
In the second inning, after Braves starting pitcher Sean Newcomb drew a walk, Acuna would deliver on producing some postseason magic. He would blast the ball out of Sun Trust Park, generating a grand slam that would give the Braves a 5-0 lead. The outfielder would be the youngest to hit a grand slam in the postseason, breaking a record held by Mickey Mantle for decades. His grand slam would play a role in the Braves 6-5 victory to force a Game 4 against the Dodgers.
Who knows if the Braves will come back or if the Dodgers steak the clinching game on the road. But the hype around Acuna Jr. is real and here to stay. There are few five tool players who have stood out this early in their career. Acuna is one of them and according to his teammate Freddie Freeman.
“These guys don’t come around very often. They really don’t,” Freeman said. “What he’s doing is kind of eye-popping, really. It leaves you saying, ‘Wow, he does something every day that is special.’ For him to be 20 years old and have this big an impact this fast, he’s just getting started. It’s going to be a fun career to watch.”
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