ATLANTA – When Atlanta took the lead over Houston with three games against one, the team had plenty of time trying to win their first World Series since 1995. So it makes sense that the team’s newest star was a player of all countries. in high school.
In the regular season and again in October, Austin Riley heard a lot of “MVP! MVP! ”Songs at Truist Park. No wonder: just in his third season in the major leagues – and the first in which he was an everyday player all year with 162 games – Riley finished second in the national league after RBI (107) and overall. bases (313), third in goals (179), sixth in average shots (.303) and 10th at home (33.) The winning streak took home a single at the bottom of ninth in the 1st game of the National League Championship Series against Los Angeles and put 0.294 with three RBIs in the first four games of the World Series.
But in the Southeast Conference country, Atlanta baseball fans who want the title are thankful for the demands of high school football for pushing Riley, who was the swallow’s third player, against the diamond.
Riley, 24, was a freshman and sophomore at DeSoto Central High School in Southaven, Miss. He was also an aspiring baseball star. Those two paths collided when the football coach told him he shouldn’t miss the summer rehearsals seven to seven after sophomore year.
“He told me,‘ We have another guy here and he’s really committed, ’” Riley said as he stood at the Atlanta bathing area on Saturday. “It’s one of those things where I wanted to play quarterback, but at the same time I knew I loved baseball, and I want to keep doing it.”
When Riley decided not to play football, the coach invited him to stay on the team as a player.
Sure, Riley said, why not?
“I was panting, putting goals out of the game, being horrible,” Riley said. “I scored more upright than I scored a goal. It was kind of funny. “
But, wow, could I play. And for those who knew the family, it came as no surprise. His father Mike was an actor in the state of Mississippi from 1987 to 1991 and attended training with the Detroit Lions in 1992 and 1993.
“I was in pre-season camp and both years when I was there, I got to the last part,” Mike Riley said.
Austin Riley estimated he averaged 45 or more yards per punt in high school, and his father said the highest part of his range was 75 to 80 yards. While Austin’s estimate may be generous (the MaxPreps website said he averaged 41.6 yards per punt), his father’s estimate was spot on: his son’s longest punt was recorded as 77 yards.
Father and son connected one of the more specialized football skills.
“We lived on a few surfaces,” Austin Riley said. “We had enough space and there were afternoons when we got back there and he was still able to spin and turn the ball. So I kind of learned. It all started in the yard with kicking and I was very good at it. “
In the backyard, they were joined by cousin Keegan James, who is now an assistant at the Colorado Rockies.
“All he did was take a long shot,” Austin Riley said. “So we came in, got dressed, did 30 minutes of practice, and then bounced back. ‘We have to go to baseball practice.’ It was cool. ”
James ended up playing baseball in Mississippi for three years. Riley also made a commitment to the state of Mississippi, with the Bulldogs offering him the opportunity to play for the football team in addition to playing baseball. Instead, he signed a contract with Atlanta after being selected as the 41st pick on the 2015 roster.
Sometimes he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Riley had trouble early in his professional baseball career. He reported to the Atlanta branch in the Gulf League where he said, “I think I scored 0 for 21 with 14 strikeouts before I got the first goal.”
His father remembered it as 0 for 24 with 17 deletions. Regardless, he was barely 18 and it was as rough as it sounds.
“I’m homegrown,” he said. “We were doing all this training and I said to myself,‘ Man, I don’t even know if this is for me. Should I go to the state of Mississippi and play professional baseball after that? ‘
He laughed when he remembered this: “I tweeted, ‘Austin will be playing in the throw until September.’ I was hit. But when the first goal came, it was a domino effect. “
He was called up by Atlanta in 2019 and initially played on the left because the club wanted his stick in the lineup. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he played primarily third base. While reaping strength as a rookie, he scored just 0.226 with 18 home games in 80 games. In 2020, his home score dropped to eight in 51 games, reaching 0.239. It wasn’t until this summer that Riley established himself as an Atlanta cleaner.
“He came in and had such a big hit, and then he had to somehow learn his way through the big leagues,” Dansby Swanson of Atlanta said this month. “And then it seems to me that nowadays, as soon as we get up, we all have a comp, right? And we have someone competent, what our ceiling could be like and what it was like in the best years, and then when you’re not right away, it’s kind of like, OK, well, that person isn’t any good. It seems to me that this happens so often today in any sport. “
During the NLCS, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Riley’s maturation was really noticeable.
“You see the confidence,” Roberts said. “Only at the plate, it controls the speed, the rotation. It can overcome displacement so it can control the pipe. He’s just a really good striker. And he also got some better grades in defense. “
Riley said he still talks to his mom and dad at least twice a day. He married his high school girlfriend Anna. Their support helped him pull him through his tough first days in the Gulf League, and now they sit in the stands at Truist Park and listen to those “MVPs!” chants.
Just a few years ago, he played in an all-star game at Mississippi-Alabama High School. He now plays in the World Series.
“That was unrealistic,” Riley said, referring to the difficult seasons of losses suffered by institutions in Atlanta such as Freddie Freeman and manager Brian Snitker before his arrival. “It feels like I’m spoiled because I’ve been in the league for three years and I’m already in the World Series. A lot of people have been in the league for a long time and have never been here before. “
Sometimes during the season, he will see relievers throwing the ball in the outside field before hitting training and wondering if he can still turn the high spiral with a quick hit. “But I resist that because it only takes one punch and something pulls if I’m not stretched properly,” Riley said.
What was once a tedious decision to give up one sport turned out well.
“I love people and I loved football,” Riley said. “Friday night, that’s what I miss the most in high school. You have foreplay, your little outage. But I liked baseball better. “
He said he was twice the most nervous when he told a football coach he was going to play baseball, and asked Anna’s father for a blessing to marry his daughter.
“Oh yeah,” Riley said. “I would definitely take the World Series in the foggy rain to Friday night’s football game in high school. Definitely. “