Baddoo HRs in 1st MLB AB … on the 1st pitch

Detroit Tigers
DETROIT — Akil Baddoo didn’t need to long to carry his Spring Training success story into the regular season. The Tigers’ Rule 5 Draft pick homered on his first Major League pitch Sunday, crushing a line drive into the left-field seats in the third inning against the Indians.

Baddoo is the ninth player in franchise history to homer in his first Major League at-bat, a feat last accomplished by Sergio Alcántara on Sept. 6, 2020. Baddoo joins a short list of players to homer on their first big league pitch, last accomplished by Cubs catcher Willson Contreras on June 19, 2016.

No player on that list, though, arguably has a wilder story than Baddoo, a Rule 5 Draft pick out of the Twins’ organization who slugged his way onto Detroit’s Opening Day roster with a torrid Spring Training. Not only had Baddoo not played a game above Class A ball before Sunday, he hadn’t played a regular-season game since May 11, 2019.

Time and again, the 22-year-old Baddoo has proven he’s closer than the track record suggests, from five Grapefruit League home runs to a mature approach at the plate and in the field.

Baddoo nearly made his Major League debut on Saturday; he was on deck to pinch-hit for Miguel Cabrera when the eighth inning ended. Instead, Baddoo waited for his first big league start in left field, a game manager A.J. Hinch had planned out.

“I told him that he was going to start one of the games in the series,” Hinch said Sunday morning. “So after Opening Day, I always let the guys know what the next day’s plan is, and he wasn’t in that lineup, I said, ‘Let your family know you’re going to get your first start on Sunday.’”

Baddoo’s parents and his two younger brothers were seated behind home plate Sunday, having made the trip from Georgia for the occasion.

When Baddoo’s spot came up leading off the bottom of the third inning, he stepped in swinging. From the moment he connected with Aaron Civale’s first-pitch fastball over the plate, Baddoo knew it was out, flipping his bat as it took off with a 103.7 mph exit velocity. The ball hit the back of the bullpen as the socially distanced crowd cheered him around the bases and into the dugout, where his teammates mobbed him.

It was an emotional moment for a young man who has kept his emotions surprisingly in check since arriving at Spring Training.

“He’s a pretty cool customer, man,” Hinch said Sunday morning. “He doesn’t show any nerves. I asked him when he was on the on-deck circle [Saturday], ‘How was your heartbeat?’ And he just looked at me like I was crazy. Like, ‘It’s fine. I’m about to go play baseball.’ …

“It’s not rare to say that. It’s more rare if it’s actually the truth.”

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