On Thursday afternoon, Ronald Acuña Jr. walked into the press conference room at Truist Park and settled into the chair at the table on the dais. His interpreter, Franco García, sat to his right.

Over the next 13-plus minutes, Acuña displayed vulnerability as he dove into his second ACL tear – this one in his left knee – and the emotions surrounding this setback. His answers provided a humanizing look at his grim reality: Acuña, whose season is over, faces another lengthy rehab. Still, he seemed rather positive considering the injury occurred only four days before he addressed reporters.

Acuña said he’s doing well.

“I think it’s been easier to process this go-around because I went through the same process two years ago,” Acuña said. “So I’ve been feeling a little more positive.”

Here are five topics Acuña discussed:

He was ‘fairly surprised’ he tore his ACL

After the Braves won Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, Acuña stood alongside Braves coach Eddie Pérez, who interpreted the superstar’s answers for reporters. Given how serious the injury appeared, Acuña seemed surprisingly upbeat and optimistic. He compared it with spraining his left ACL in 2018 and said he felt he might miss a month.

Hours later, he saw the MRI results.

How surprised was he to find out he had a complete tear of his left ACL?

“Yeah, I was fairly surprised, because obviously, it’s your body, you’re the one kind of feeling through the pains,” Acuña said. “And that was sort of what it felt like – it felt like I was probably gonna be out for that duration that I said. Yeah, I was surprised to hear that it was torn.”

Acuña said his surgery is scheduled for Tuesday. Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who is based in Los Angeles, will perform the procedure. Acuña plans to stay in Los Angeles for a month or a month and a half after the operation, and then will return to Atlanta to support his teammates throughout the rest of the season.

When asked about when he could return, he didn’t give a timeline.

“I’m just hopeful that the surgery goes well, the rehab goes well and that everything goes according to plan,” Acuña said. “And as far as the return, I’ll be ready when the team says I’m ready. And until then, more opportunities for other guys to play.”

‘All that support finds me crying at home by myself’

Acuña used one word to describe the support he’s received: incredible. His teammates. His coaches. The fans. They’ve all thrown so much support his way.

“Honestly, the amount of support has been overwhelming,” Acuña said. “All that support finds me crying at home by myself, and the reason that’s happening is because I feel like I’m the one abandoning the team. It feels like I’m the one letting everyone down. There’s nothing I can do. Just continue to work hard, continue to heal. The last time this happened, the team won the World Series, so that’s the goal right there.”

Acuña tore the ACL in his right knee in the summer of 2021. The Braves didn’t get hot until the second half of the season. They put together a magical run and won the World Series.

The star outfielder said he’s received support from other ballplayers and even athletes in other sports. He seemed touched by this.

“To be honest, I haven’t gotten around to replying to a lot of those messages, just because those messages come from a place of support, and every time I start reading them, I start to break down and start crying,” Acuña said. “I know that all these guys who are reaching out to me, they just want what’s best for me, they want to see me be healthy and do well, just as I want the same for them. And so that’s why it’s overwhelming.”

Applying the lessons he’s already learned

Acuña knows what’s ahead. The rehab process is not easy.

“It’s painful – I’m not gonna dance around it,” he said. “It feels like the rehab is probably even more painful than the operation. But there’s nothing else to do except just to take it, continue to work hard and move forward.”

But he has this going for him: He knows what he’ll experience. He has lessons from the last time that he can apply to this one.

What did he take from the last time he went through this?

“I think I just learned that I was stronger than what I really knew, than what I knew about myself,” Acuña said. “And if you want the ultimate goal, you gotta pay the price to get there.”

But Acuña still will be himself during this process. He’ll attack it. It’s who he is.

“I think that confidence, that competitive nature is something innate,” he said. “That’s who I am. I don’t think there’s any extra thing to it. Sometimes, these things are blessings in disguise. Sometimes, you gotta lose yourself to find yourself. I think that’s how I’m trying to approach this thing. I’m going to take everything in stride. It’s another opportunity, and who knows, maybe I can come back and win another MVP.”

To win the NL MVP last season, Acuña had to conquer the challenges that came with his first torn ACL. To simplify them: In 2022, he didn’t look like the same player after returning from his rehab. He seemed less explosive and less confident in his own body. He appeared tentative at times. He had to learn to trust his knee again.

All of this happened before his record-setting 2023 season.

He learned patience from it all.

“I think that’s the main thing that I would take away from the last go-around,” he said. “I felt like I was antsy and anxious to get back on the field, and I felt very excited to kind of go back and play. For this go-around, I’m just gonna let things develop how they’re supposed to. I’m gonna continue to work hard, train, rehab, get stronger, and then when the team says I’m ready to go, I’ll be ready to go.”

The same type of player, but better

At one point, a reporter asked Acuña whether he would change anything about the way he plays to decrease the chances of a serious injury happening again.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think this is kind of the essence of who I am, you know? All that’s left for me to do right now is to just put in the work, come in stronger, hopefully, than I was before. But I’m gonna keep playing the way that I’m playing because that’s my game and that’s who I am. When I come back, I hope to keep stealing bases and keep playing hard on the field.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint a reason for Acuña’s two torn ACLs. It would be unfair to him to try to do so. They might be freak accidents.

He said he doesn’t consider himself unlucky.

“I think I just play hard,” Acuña said.

He’s got a clear vision for his return next season.

“My goal is to come back a better player, a better person,” Acuña said. “I would say I want to come back a better player than I was in 2023.”

‘They don’t need me to win the World Series’

The Braves are now without Acuña and Spencer Strider. If they are to win the World Series, they’ll do so without those two.

It will be difficult.

But as 2021 showed, it’s not impossible.

“We’re here for a reason,” Acuña said. “Every player on that roster over there is there for a reason. This team is completely capable of (that). They don’t need me to win the World Series.”