Nathaniel Williams: With the baseball regular season over and the postseason ramping up, it’s a good time to reflect on what Ronald Acuña did this year. Here to discuss is Dr. Christy Thornton. Dr. Thornton, you have a lot of really important big titles here at Southeastern, but listeners have heard you on the podcast before as our official “Royal Correspondent.” And now I’m going to add on to your resume, “Baseball Beat Writer.”
Christy Thornton: I’ll take it.
NW: Okay, who is Ronald Acuña Jr., and what is so special about his season?
CT: Ronald Acuña Jr. plays right field for the Atlanta Braves and bats leadoff, so he’s the first batter that comes up every gam. And there’s no one quite like him. He’s phenomenal to watch. I’ve been watching baseball my whole life. I grew up outside Atlanta in the 90s, which makes me a Braves fan (because everybody was a Braves fan in the 90s). Ronald Acuña is probably one of the most fun players I’ve ever been able to watch kind of in my lifetime. This year, he hit a number of historic marks. Probably the most prominent of those is that he’s the first baseball player in the history of the major leagues to steal over 70 bases and hit more than 40 home runs in the same season. To put that in perspective, he was also the first player to steal more than 60 bases and hit more than 30 home runs. So that was a historic mark. And then he exceeded that by another ten by being the first 70-40 player in the history of the major leagues. And we probably won’t ever see anyone like him for a long time.
NW: Usually a player is either a power hitter for home runs or a speedy guy. And he’s this rare combination.
CT: Right. He can do both of them. And it’s just phenomenal to watch because even his on-base percentage is very high. He’s the leadoff batter, and if he doesn’t hit it out, he at least gets on base. And as soon as he’s on base, he steals. And it’s just never a dull moment in the first inning for the Braves.
NW: Yeah, the Braves had an all-time historic offense, and he was the catalyst that got the ball rolling every single game.
CT: Yeah, every single game. So, you know when he walks up, he’s going to do something at the beginning of every game.
NW: So Acuña had a historic season — 40 home runs, more than 70 stolen bases. What does this have to do with our faith? How can we think Christianly about what he did this year in baseball?
CT: So, to my knowledge, Ronald Acuña Jr. isn’t a Christian — so we don’t want to push too far because he’s not a Christian. However, one of my favorite things about watching Acuña play is that he never takes himself too seriously. If you didn’t know who he was when you were watching him play, he carries himself as if he’s like a 15-year-old playing street ball. Like, he is super laid back, playful even, just the way he reacts when things go well or when things don’t go well. He’s just super chill about it. And for me, I feel like there’s something instructive, even for Christians. We can pursue excellence — and really have top-tier excellence — and still be kind of chill about ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously and have fun. And in fact, it probably isn’t a bad idea for more Christians to aspire to be that kind of Christian who does things that are really excellent and are also kind of laid back about it.
NW: Yeah, there’s a joy and a nonchalance about the way he just goes and steals a base, and it’s just effortless. He does a little bit of showboating, but it’s never in the sense of trying to downgrade someone else. It feels natural to who he is. Is that what you’re saying?
CT: Yeah, absolutely. And even at the end of the game, Ronnie flips his hat around backward, untucks his shirt, and just like, runs up and hugs his teammates. He’s just like a chill guy. And the whole Braves team this year, they’re just really fun. Like, they’re a fun group of people doing things that are historic, and you can do that. You can do things that are historic and have fun. You can do things that are top-tier excellent and be chill about it.
NW: I’m a Braves fan as well, and we were saying before the recording that we remember when the Braves were the fun police. They didn’t like to have fun. Now they do like to have fun. And I much prefer the fun version of the Braves to the fun police. Let’s think about our listeners in their everyday lives. We’ve got pastors listening. We’ve got stay at home moms, we’ve got students, people who work in all kinds of vocations. How can we press this into their lives? God’s gifted them in some particular way. Maybe they can’t hit 40 home runs and steal 70 bases, but God’s gifted them. What would that look like for them?
CT: Whatever you’re doing, do it with excellence. There’s real value in pursuing excellence, and excellence is not always measured by comparison. So, Ronald Acuña is unique in that he has no comparison. Like, there’s no one who can compare to him because no one’s ever done what he does. But some of it is you stewarding your own gifts to your ability in your own context. But when you find that you’re really good at something, you don’t actually have to make a big deal about that. You can just be really good at it without making that a part of your identity. And I think this is something personal in my life, too, right? My desire and all the things that I do, all the hats that I wear… man, my desire is to do it with excellence, but also not take myself too seriously in the process. And we live in a world where everything feels super intense all the time. And especially Christians living in Christian contexts, everything’s incredibly confrontational. Everything feels super serious. It’s okay to chill out and just have fun, be good at what you do.
NW: You can put that on your resume there. “It’s okay to chill out.” That’s going to be on a quotable thing. Dr. Thornton, thank you for joining us today.
CT: Thanks for having me.