There’s this aging fellow I know who used to grumble about a lot of things that don’t really matter much in baseball.
Like the bat flip after a home run. A completely unnecessary flourish, like writing a grocery list in cursive. It was a crime against decorum, punishable by a fastball in the ribs.
He believed that the playing of a game should be approached with the same kind of professional earnestness that a pilot or a surgeon or at least a driver’s ed teacher brought to the workplace. This is a serious sport played by serious people.
And dead certain was he that maybe you’d wear a gold or silver chain to an audition for a Soprano’s remake or to a mid-life crisis, but never to the batter’s box. Baseball doesn’t need to accessorize.
Quit messing with that costly tangle around your neck and step up to the plate already. Are you getting ready to hit or do a Tiffany ad?
But then Ronald Acuna came along.
Now I don’t even know that old grouch who held all those antediluvian beliefs, although I’m told that used to be me. Acuna changed the way he watched baseball.
Acuna and his BFF Ozzie Albies showed up on the Braves and, suddenly, “act like you’ve been there” before has been replaced by “treat every day like it’s a newly unwrapped joy.”
There is no room for stodginess in the game Acuna’s plays. He is about as reserved as a kid on a Christmas cookie high. He thoroughly enjoys how good he is at baseball, and he invites everyone in the joint to join him in a celebration of power and speed and arm strength. He wants to involve the world.
The five-tool player has a sixth tool: Irresistible competitive charisma.
Reducing Acuna to numbers is a sin. All very good and nice that he as of today ranks among the top six in baseball in hits, home runs and stolen bases and that he is coming up fast on the rear quarter panel of the likes of Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich in the MVP conversation. But it is more the way he is compiling the numerical detritus of his game that is so appealing.
Some players you appreciate by their statistics. With Acuna, it is more a visceral experience. Watching him just makes you feel good, same as when taking in a sunset or a cat video.
Sure, he’ll stare at one of his home runs, but, well, chances are it was majestic. Maybe he’ll release his bat with a little extra twirl. But he is, after all, the drum major in this band.
Watching him run the bases is even worth the high price of a ballpark beer. Singles may be inevitable, but Acuna treats each one as if second base is his birthright. He’s going to get there one way or another, just accept it.
From right field, where he now is stationed and looks so natural, he’ll make throws that loosen the hinge on any jaw. There are laser pointers more inaccurate than such throws.
On him, the chains are just the sparkle to a star; he wouldn’t look right without them.
How could you not be won over by the ever-present smile and the happy, running soliloquy Acuna seems to carry on from first pitch to last? He is not showing up anyone, just showing out. He means no insult to the game or any unwritten rule. He is simply rewriting the code, to something less somber.
That’s how Acuna converts even the aging grump.
Who knew baseball could be so much fun?