Braves: Can Ronald Acuña Jr. Save Baseball Like ‘Long Gone Summer’

After watching the documentary on how the summer of ’98 saved baseball, we look at whether an Atlanta Braves player could do the same now.

Atlanta Braves fans may not have noticed in the mid-90s while they were celebrated the team’s first World Series title in Atlanta, but baseball was a dying sport.

After an ugly fight that led to the cancellation of the 1994 season, a lot of fans didn’t come back when baseball returned.

For the most part, you can say that the 1998 season when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit home runs at an alarming rate — that apparently no one questioned at the time — was the moment that a lot people came back to the sport.

Knowing what we know now may change our view on that a season a little differently, but as a kid who was wrapped up in the chase for 62, I can honestly tell you that was the most fun I’ve ever had during a baseball season.

Of course, all of this was well documented in ESPN’s 30-for-30 that debuted Sunday night called ‘Long Gone Summer.’

If you haven’t watched, make sure you check it out. But again, that summer was a lot of fun and gave baseball a shot in the arm … or wherever they put the needle.

Whether you want to admit it or not, baseball is heading for turmoil again and relationships between the owners and players have never been worse.

Both sides are trying to take advantage of a global pandemic that has destroyed the lives of many to start a fight for the upcoming collective bargaining agreement.

Instead of coming together and bringing something positive to our country when it needs it most, they’re fighting (mostly) over how to divide up millions of dollars.

It’s really sickening and as a diehard baseball fan, even I’m a little fed up with the sport and don’t care if they play this season. My fandom has definitely taken a hit in all of this and I can only imagine the damage it’s done to the casual fan.

And again, this is just the beginning. After next season when the CBA is up there is a very good chance we could have a strike-shortened season in 2022 or no season at all.

But here’s where I get to the good part for Braves fans — thanks for sticking with me through that rant.

I believe there is a player on the Braves team who could save the sport — and, of course, that is Ronald Acuna Jr.

It may be in the 2021 season or it may be in the 2023 season, but at some point this sport is going to need a savior after all of the damage it has done to itself in the public eye.

The ’98 season was so great because you had two guys doing something many thought to be unthinkable.

So what is Acuna going to do with the Braves that hasn’t been done before?

Well, for one, a lot of people just love the fun and excitement he brings to the game. Yes, he’s still going to rub some of the old school fans like myself the wrong way when a pimps a ball that doesn’t go out.

But still, he plays with the excitement and flair that most fans — particularly the younger generation — love to watch.

Now what I’m hoping we see from Acuna, and what I think would bring a lot of people back to the game, is the pursuit of a 50-50 seaso.

He teased about going for it back in spring training, but I think it’s something realistic that he can do if he wants to.

And I say if he wants to, because normally as players get older and get more established they tend to not steal as many bases.

Look at Mike Trout, he stole 49 bases in his first full season and 33 the next. Since then he’s average around 20 stolen bases a season.

That’s still really good, but with stealing bases can also come injuries and you don’t want your superstar taking that many risks.

However, I think it’s something Acuna really wants and I think he has a bad taste in his mouth from just missing out on a 40-40 season — something that’s only been done four times and at least three of those players have been tied to steroids.

I know the pursuit of a 50-50 season would have me glued to the TV and going out to the park to see him — something I’m going to do as a Braves fan anyway.

But I also think it’s something that would bring back a lot of fans who have been turned off from this ugly battle between the owners and players.

The damage has already been done, now baseball is going to need another ‘Long Gone Summer’ to save them.

I really think the Braves’ young superstar in Acuna can be the one to save baseball and make it fun again.