You won't find too many people who disagree with the claim that Ronald Acuña Jr. — alongside Fernando Tatis Jr., Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto — is one of the faces of this era of baseball. In just three-and-a-half seasons, the Braves' 23-year-old standout has earned All-Star recognition, become a perennial MVP candidate and made highlight play after highlight play that draws today's younger audience toward the game. He's everything that baseball needs to remain as popular as it is and to continue to entertain audiences not only across the country, but throughout the world.
And for those reasons, while his ACL injury is obviously a brutal blow to the Braves — FanGraphs' Dan Szymborski said that the loss of Acuña is "just about the loudest the fates can shout that your season is over" — it's just as tough a loss to endure for MLB and the game of baseball as a whole. That's something that everyone can agree on, including both Atlanta teammate Freddie Freeman and division rival Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals (who is also one of Acuña's close friends).
"We were just sitting in the ballroom of the second floor (of the hotel), just shaking our heads," Freeman said (via Gabriel Burns of The Atlatnta Journal-Constitution). "I brought (my son) Charlie with me because I knew he’d cheer him up. He came in and gave Ronald a huge hug. All you can really say is sorry. He was putting on one of the best seasons we could ever see. He was contending for 40-40, 30-30 for sure. One of the top three players in the game that people aren’t going to get to watch any more. It’s hard. It’s super hard for us when we lose our best player.
"And it’s hard for baseball. You have east coast, Ronald and (Jacob) deGrom, west coast you have Shohei (Ohtani), Fernando (Tatis) and those guys. You take one guy away and it’s sad. It’s just sad for baseball. We just hung out for 30 minutes. I’ve never seen somebody in such good spirits though, because all he wants to do is be back. Then Ozzie came in that night too. It was a late night and it showed Sunday. We struck out nine straight times. A little bit of a hangover from losing Ronald for the whole year. Baseball is going to miss him."
"It was really tough seeing a play like that," Soto agreed. "It’s tough to see him out. He’s a superstar. It’s tough for the team and the whole MLB. I hope he can get better soon. I think he’s going to be great (in the rehab process). He’ll be back. He’s young. He’ll be ready to be back."
And Braves fans have to keep that optimism and hope for the future in mind: he will be back, and he'll be ready to be back, like Soto said. Don't believe a division rival? Take it from a franchise all-time great. Chipper Jones relayed to Steve Hummer of AJC that he'd tell Acuña that he's "going to be fine" and that "this is a speedbump" that won't "derail your career in any shape or form."
It won't be an easy road back, however, and Jones knows from firsthand experience that this is the case.
"Twelve hours after they replace his ACL, they’re going to bend his knee to a 90-degree angle," Jones said. "It’s going to be one of the most painful things that he ever does in his life. But they have to get that range of motion back.
"Whenever you have a big knee injury — I’m not going to call it catastrophic, but it’s every bit the Tommy John surgery of the knee — it’s important to keep your confidence."
Here's to the smoothest and swiftest of recoveries from one of our national pastime's brightest stars.