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Fans love Acuña. Even the cardboard ones

Braves star hits first HR of 2020, shows off 'love for the game'
@mlbbowman
August 2, 2020

ATLANTA -- Along with creating excitement with his tremendous talents, the fun-loving, energetic Ronald Acuña Jr. has a unique ability to entertain fans. Even the cardboard ones. After hitting his first homer of the season in Saturday’s 7-1 win over the Mets, Acuña smiled brightly as he rounded the bases,

ATLANTA -- Along with creating excitement with his tremendous talents, the fun-loving, energetic Ronald Acuña Jr. has a unique ability to entertain fans. Even the cardboard ones.

After hitting his first homer of the season in Saturday’s 7-1 win over the Mets, Acuña smiled brightly as he rounded the bases, exchanged some no-contact high-fives and then created more laughter when he rose back up the dugout stairs to acknowledge the cardboard cutouts in the seats with a curtain call.

Box score

“You want to keep as many traditions as possible, even though the fans aren’t here,” Acuña said through a translator. “It’s a shame we don’t have them here. But you just try to keep it going to make it as fun as possible.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker didn’t know his young outfielder had done the curtain call until he was asked about it after his team claimed its fourth straight victory.

“No, I missed that one,” a laughing Snitker said. “Good for him.”

Since coming to the Majors during the first month of the 2018 season, Acuña has had the Braves and their fans smiling on a consistent basis. He finished three steals shy of the fifth 40-40 season in MLB history last year and became one of five players to ever hit at least 65 homers through his age-21 season.

The first week of this season proved to be a challenge for Acuña, who entered Saturday 5-for-33 with an MLB-high 17 strikeouts. So he was understandably showing a little extra joy as he rounded the bases after tallying his first homer of the season at the expense of Mets reliever Franklyn Kilomé in the sixth inning.

“I think I just have a passion, enthusiasm and love for the game that I bring to every game,” Acuña said. “It goes without saying that hitting a home run is not the same as getting a hit. So obviously you’re going to enjoy it.”

Acuña doubled off Michael Wacha during a three-run second inning to begin his first multi-hit game of the season. Per Statcast, his homer traveled a projected 415 feet with a 113.8 mph exit velocity -- the third-hardest homer of his young career.

“I could feel it the last few days,” Snitker said. “Here and there, there were signs. He’s been working hard, I know that. That will be a nice shot in the arm if we can get him doing what he does.”

Acuña’s two extra-base hits backed an effective spot start from Touki Toussaint, who was forced to quarantine most of July after testing positive for COVID-19. Two weeks after gaining clearance to join the team, the right-hander threw four scoreless innings and received an early advantage when Marcell Ozuna hit a two-run homer off Michael Wacha in the first.

Ozuna has gotten off to a tremendous start, hitting .367 (11-for-30) with three doubles, three homers (all of them against the Mets) and a 1.253 OPS through nine games. Eleven of the 23 balls he's put in play have had an exit velocity of at least 100 mph.

Still, by the time this season ends, Acuña will likely be leading the team in most hard-hit categories. His homer stands as the hardest-hit ball by a Braves player this year and the 113.8 mph exit velo was nothing new.

Pete Alonso (42), Jorge Soler (39), Aaron Judge (35), Kyle Schwarber (34), Nelson Cruz (34), Rafael Devers (33), Bryce Harper and Acuña (33) were the only big leaguers to produce a 110 mph or higher exit velocity at least 33 times during the 2019 season.

“The kid is a superstar,” Toussaint said. “I think he knows that now, too. I’m glad everyone is seeing it and appreciating it.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.