By César Augusto Márquez
Ronald Acuña, Sr. still remembers clearly his response when his oldest son told him at age 14 that he wanted to become a professional ballplayer.
“Don’t make the same mistakes I did,” Ronald Sr. told Junior.
Practice, he said. Lift weights. And above all, always hustle.
“Show people who you are. Run every time you hit the ball, because running hard will take you far,” Ronald Sr. said.
Dad’s words clearly reverberated in his son’s soul. Because this morning, 20-year-old Ronald Jr. — the Arizona Fall League MVP and consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball — achieved his lifelong dream: he got the call to join the Atlanta Braves in the big leagues. Like father, like son, definitely not.
“I had talent. I knew how to play baseball,” Ronald Sr. said. “But I never cared about lifting weights. Nor did I have the best attitude on the field. Those two mistakes cut short my career. Otherwise, I would have made it.”
Ronald Sr. talked in Spanish to La Vida Baseball from his home in La Sabana, Venezuela, several times in recent weeks. Now his son is headed to “the show.”
“Ronald called me crying. He couldn’t speak. He finally said, ‘Dad, they called me up.'” — Ronald Acuña Sr.
Don’t blame Ronald Sr. for reliving his career through his son, a .307 career hitter in the minors known for his ultra-quick hands, explosive swing and extraordinary speed.
Only 38, Ronald Sr. is barely eight years removed from his last game with the Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan winter league. An outfielder, he spent eight seasons bouncing around the farm systems for the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers while never advancing above Double-A.
“I should have made it,” Ronald Sr. said. “But Ronald Jr. will be a major league star. Besides having much more power, he’s also more talented and disciplined than I ever was.”
The Acuña bloodline spreads beyond Senior and Junior. It starts with Ronald Jr.’s grandfather, who was a pitcher. They are also related to Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar and Alcides’ uncle José Escobar as well as José’s son Edwin Escobar and fellow cousins Kelvim Escobar and Vicente Campos — all former major leaguers.
“Ronald Jr. has the lineage,” Ronald Sr. said. “Like a good rum, he has a fancy pedigree. Not only have I mentored him, he’s also benefited from his cousins, older brothers of sorts who have advised and guided him during his journey to the major leagues.
“He was born with talent,” Ronald Sr. added. “But the little things that you do to polish that talent, he learned from all of us.”
‘He hates to lose’
La Sabana is a tiny coastal town about 65 miles east of Caracas with roughly 6,000 inhabitants. It’s remarkable that a place so small can produce major leaguers like Alcides Escobar and his extended family. But in this particular town, to say that baseball is life is no exaggeration at all.
“La Sabana is all about drums and music, about baseball, rivers and beaches. That’s who we are,” Ronald Sr. said. “There are five families here, all related, who live for baseball.”
Ronald Jr. grew up with sports. If he wasn’t playing baseball or accompanying his father to games, he was playing hoops, his favorite pastime. One of his uncles, Rosmel Blanco, became a professional basketball player.
“I never had problems with Ronald Jr.,” the father said. “All he wanted to do was go play in the ballpark.”
Every Dec. 30, all the cousins, regardless of age and how far they got in professional ball, get together at town’s ballpark for their annual family softball game. According to dad, Junior plays for keeps.
“Ronald tries hard to win,” Ronald Sr. said. “He hates to lose. He’s very competitive.”
Three more sons
In fact, Ronald Jr. was one of Atlanta’s most competitive players during spring training, hitting .432/.519/.727 with four home runs and 11 RBI over 16 games. But a week before the season opened, the Braves reassigned him to the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers.
The decision was simply business. By waiting until April 25 to promote Ronald Jr., the Braves gained an additional year of service. Ronald Sr. and his son’s agent, Peter Greenberg of The Legacy Agency, counseled Junior by pointing out that the Chicago Cubs did the same with Kris Bryant in 2015 and the Los Angeles Dodgers with Cody Bellinger last season, and both ended up being NL Rookies of the Year.
“He knew that he had to play hard and that’s what he did in spring training, but he also knows that above all he has to stay disciplined,” Ronald Sr. said.
One down, three to go. Believe it or not, Ronald Sr. has more sons set on making it to the big leagues — Luis (16), José (12) and Kenny (6). Expect Luis to go pro on July 2, the first day of the next signing period for international free agents.
“Few fathers can say that they fulfilled their dreams through a son,” Ronald Sr. said. “But now, Ronald Jr. might open the door for the rest of them. They all got the bloodlines.”
Featured Image: Icon Sportswire