Riley's homer a fitting tribute to late mentor

June 17th, 2024

ATLANTA -- As watched his game-tying eighth-inning homer sail over the right-center-field wall during an 8-6 loss to the Rays on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park, his thoughts were with Mike Brumley, his beloved hitting instructor who was killed in an auto accident on Saturday night.

“He was in the back of my mind really all day,” Riley said. “It’s just tough.”

Riley developed a strong bond with Brumley, who was a hitting instructor in the Braves’ system from 2018-21. The two stayed in contact over the years and even worked together earlier this week, when the team was in Baltimore.

“There’s very few people who have been models in my baseball career,” Riley said. “My dad is number one, and Mike Brumley has been number two. I feel for his family and his kids and everybody that he was close to.”

Riley was informed of the fatal accident during the wee hours of the morning. He was emotional as he prepared for Sunday’s game, and his voice cracked a couple times as he spoke to media members after the game.

“I talked to him on a regular basis,” Riley said. “It’s going to be tough going forward, just from a mental standpoint. I’m just going to have to pray harder and lean on God. It’s in his hands.”

This has been a rough season for Riley, who entered Friday hitting .220 with a .618 OPS. He experienced some slow starts while producing three consecutive 30-homer seasons from 2021-23. But this one lasted longer than most, possibly because it included a two-week absence in May caused by a tight left intercostal muscle.

Riley has leaned on Brumley over the years, so it was no surprise to hear he met with his trusted instructor in Baltimore this week. The early results also shouldn’t be surprising. The Braves third baseman went 6-for-10 with three homers and a double during this weekend’s three-game series against the Rays.

His three homers matched the total he had compiled over the 209 at-bats that preceded this series.

“I know [Brumley] and Austin had a great relationship, as did a lot of our guys who came up while he was our hitting coordinator,” Snitker said. “When you hear about [the accident], you just go numb.”

Word about Brumley’s passing spread through the press box about 30 minutes before Sunday’s first pitch. As Riley stood on the field holding his young son during a pregame ceremony, there was reason to wonder how he was feeling.

After the game, he said he hadn’t slept since receiving the horrible news at 2:30 a.m. ET.

“There’s only a few guys through a text or through a call that you can relate to and you can pick up on things,” Riley said. “We had that connection.”

Riley’s offensive awakening this weekend could enhance the promise the Braves’ lineup created while scoring six-plus runs in each of their past four games. This wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary last year. But this year, Atlanta hadn’t even scored four-plus runs in four straight games since May 7-11.

When Riley hit his game-tying homer on Sunday, the Braves erased the deficit they encountered after Hurston Waldrep (the club’s No. 2 prospect) allowed six runs in just 3 1/3 innings. Waldrep was expected to be optioned back to Triple-A Gwinnett after the game but was instead placed on the 15-day IL on Monday with right elbow inflammation.

Closer Raisel Iglesias then allowed a game-winning two-run homer to Jose Siri in the ninth to squander Atlanta’s offensive uprising.

Jarred Kelenic homered for the second straight day as the Braves’ new leadoff hitter, and Travis d’Arnaud homered for the first time since April. But the most encouraging development came from Riley, who hopes to continue benefiting from that one last time he had a chance to bond with Brumley.

“There were a few things mechanically that were kind of tying me up,” Riley said. “You can dissect your swing all you want and you can pinpoint certain things that aren’t moving right, but until you figure out the root problem, you’re more or less just throwing a band-aid on it. We were able to stay on it and find a consistent routine that’s allowing me to feel the way I want to feel.”