My birthday falls right around the MLB All-Star Game. I have known my wife for five years, and every year she asks me what I want for my birthday. When we first started dating, I was not sure how she truly felt about my passion for the Braves. Right after we married, there were several moments where me yelling at a sports game resulted in her yelling at me to be quiet. Now, she simply asks what home run did Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, or Austin Riley hit. She may not be a fan, but her tolerance is much appreciated (She has stolen two of my Braves hats for her own.)
I struggled when she asked what I wanted this year. However, when Ronald Acuna Jr. was announced as a participant in the 2019 Home Run Derby, my request became simple. All I wanted was to watch the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, because the feelings of excitement and joy that I felt as a kid are back for this year’s festivities.
Some of my fondest memories for more than thirty years have come while watching the two premier events of the MLB All-Star Break . I have watched them with my father, my grandfather, and in time my little brother. It was simply a time to enjoy watching the best players play together on one stage in the sport we loved the most. Thankfully, I have been able to enjoy many Braves in the All-Star Game. The Jones Boys, Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, amongst others, have been wonderful to experience throughout the years.
I certainly feel that, like many fans, the All-Star game has had its ups and downs as an event over the past several years. Since the infamous tie in 2002, the game itself has at times felt like a bland and forced exhibition instead of the annual extravaganza it had been in the past. Thankfully, over the past few years, efforts have been made to the format and presentation that have made the product better. However, my increased interest in the All-Star Game comes from one simple source: the significant amount of Braves’ participation in 2018, and now in 2019.
The selections of Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz, Nick Markakis, and Freddie Freeman last year, including Freeman’s participation in the Home Run Derby, was incredible. However, it could be even better this year. The Braves’ involvement on this year’s National league squad is monumental, and should be celebrated for many reasons.
It begins with the players. Freddie Freeman has been selected as the starting first baseman for the National league for the second consecutive year. Not only is he deserving due to arguably the best first half of his career, but simply because he finally is getting recognized as one of the best offensive players of his generation. Mike Soroka is being rewarded for a breakout season we all knew was likely to come at some point, but may not have realized it would be this soon. And, of course, Ronald Acuna Jr. is starting in his first All-Star Game as his march toward super stardom continues.
This also should be a celebration for the organization. Coming off an unprecedented punishment due to an international signing scandal in late 2017, the Braves franchise did not panic. They hired Alex Anthopoulos and have mostly stayed the course with the talent they had spent years accumulating. While many felt certain moves should have been made over time, it seems that the front office has done right by holding onto the young talent. The result has been the Albies selection last year at the age of 21, and this year with the Braves becoming the first Major League franchise to have two All-Stars aged 22 or younger in the same year.
Finally, this is a celebration for the fans. The Atlanta Braves fan base does not need validation or to gain an understanding of what they have. Braves fans are very aware and thankful for the young talent that the big league team currently has, and the talent that will continue to come to Atlanta. However, Braves fans will now have the ability to experience fans of other teams and around the world experiencing that talent first hand. There should be a sense of pride and enjoyment in that fact.
At the center of it all is Ronald Acuna Jr. With no disrespect to Freeman or Soroka, Acuna Jr. is and should be the main attraction. With a new focus on a marketing emphasis surrounding its young stars, the MLB has made it a point to feature Acuna Jr. From the “Let the Kids Play” commercial to the Home Run Derby, Acuna Jr. is rightfully being featured. It is not only due to his talent, but because of the the passion, fun, and youthful exuberance he plays with every day.
The reason he seems to have so much fun is not just because he is playing baseball, but also because he is doing it in Atlanta. He is getting to play everyday with his best friend. He is getting to do it for the organization that believed in him and supported him to become one of the best talents in the game. He is having fun because he is experiencing success in an environment that allows for him to be himself and because that simple fact is the reason he is successful. He is living his dream every single day, and enjoys every minute of it. As Braves fans, it is a dream come true to experience it first hand every night as well.
For these reasons and many more, Braves fans should feel proud and excited. There have been plenty of reasons to be frustrated or disappointed at some point this decade, but yet here we are cheering for a first-place team that will have a historic representation at the All-Star game. For that reason, it seems this year the festivities carry a bit more significance.
And that is why I will be watching as much of it as I can. And I certainly hope you will as well. When Ronald Acuna Jr. steps up to the plate in the Home Run Derby tonight, text, Tweet, Instagram, or Snapchat your buddies or the world about it. When Freeman or Soroka get their opportunities along with Acuna Jr. tomorrow night, brag and boast to everyone you can. The next few days should be a celebration for the city of Atlanta, the Braves organization, and the fans who passionately support it.
It is an opportunity many have waited a long time to experience. Each of us should be appreciative that opportunity is here. For these reasons, we should all enjoy, embrace, and cherish these moments that will be lasting memories for years to come.
And remember to do it all with a smile on your face as big as the one we enjoy seeing Ronald Acuna Jr. playing with every single day.