Baseball has been looking for its next big superstar for sometime now, someone that can be the face of the league. They want someone like a Derek Jeter, a Ken Griffey Jr. to represent their league so they can make posters, drive promotions and make the sport popular for kids and adults alike so stadiums will be filled, ratings will go up and merchandise will be bought.
But who can be that guy? You would think it would be Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the game today. Trout has the smile, the good attitude and demeanor fit perfectly for a role model—not to mention his skill set is nearly unmatched throughout the rest of the league. His downside? He plays for the wrong team in the Los Angeles area, which also happens to be a mediocre team, and, well, he’s kind of boring. Ask Colin Cowherd.
Not only that, but it seems as if Trout doesn’t actually want all the accolades and the fame that comes with being the face of the league anyways. Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner, pretty much has said as much.
Then there’s Bryce Harper.
There’s a belief that something about Harper just hasn’t quite connected like most were hoping. Maybe it’s the long slumps he goes through, all the strikeouts. Maybe it’s because he’s not a Yankee. But I’m not sure it’s any of those things. I think it’s because he’s more the villain than he is the hero. Villains are better with hero’s. But villains definitely sell tickets and merchandise. The Philadelphia Phillies sold over a 100,000 tickets after Harper was signed, while ticket sales on Stubhub increased 93 percent for Phillies games.
The MLB is at the very least attempting a new approach, possibly removing itself slightly from its favorite moniker as “America’s Greatest Pastime,” which is the belief that seemed to encompass the games history, respect and humility for its entire existence. That moniker now seems passé, that leaves no room for the ways of old—a slow-paced, boring game that continues to live in the past.
So to combat that, the MLB is now saying, “Let The Kids Play”—a promotion the MLB is using again in 2019 that has Ronald Acuña Jr., who didn’t even play a full season last year, as one of the main players.
If you’ve watched Acuña play, you’ll know that he’s a must-see whether he’s at the plate or in the field—or even in the dugout smiling and goofing off with his fellow teammates like Ozzie Albies. He can hit bombs, keep his team in games; he can make leaping grabs at the wall; he can also excite you as he makes his way around home plate with his fist pumps, bat flips and signature home run celebration as he touches home plate.
Acuña has nearly everything the MLB would want to market their league after. So far, he’s proven to be consistent in his game, but more importantly, it’s the way he plays the game. He doesn’t play it the old school way, the “boring” way. He celebrates by getting excited after he hits a home run, and he’ll give a bat flip after he hits one of those home runs. The 21-year-old will let you know how much fun he’s having when he’s on the field because you can see it in every action he makes. If I’m a kid, I’m buying his jersey; if I’m an adult, he makes me stop what I’m doing and stay on the channel because he entertains me. Acuña shows something that the MLB has often scoffed at—emotion. Remember, it’s the “act like you’ve been there before” league.
But that’s the great thing about the Braves outfielder. He doesn’t play the game disrespectfully, even though he plays it differently. That’s something that the MLB can put stock in because it doesn’t necessarily go against their unwritten rules, yet sets a new precedent for the future of the game.
The only concerns for Acuña is that he doesn’t play in a bigger market like New York or Los Angeles; and that he doesn’t speak English. Playing in New York, especially as a Yankee, will always have you ahead in the media, so he could very well already be the face of the league if he was there. But I still believe the biggest reason is, minus his still early career, is that he doesn’t connect as easily with people because he can’t speak English, the main language in U.S. sports. That’s not knocking any player who only speaks Spanish like Acuña. No. I’m just stating that when you see a player post-game after hitting a walk-off and they interview him to ask him about his thoughts on it, you lose a little bit of the connection to that player if you can’t hear their actual words or have them translated through an interpreter. Fans need to connect in every which way to players, so to not understand them, hear their voices, there’s an immediate disconnect there.
Speaking to the media or even on ones social media page is crucial now because it connects you with others in a unique and personal way, especially with social media. Just look what it does for LeBron James. But if Acuña can overcome that barrier, I think he can become one of the more popular players in not only baseball, but in all of sports. The fact the he could be bilingual adds even more appeal to him if he learns English fluently.
Time will only tell.