How Detroit Tigers’ Akil Baddoo went from wrestling his brother to a magical debut homer

Detroit Free Press

This is a baseball story, the best kind.

A story where family and faith and something so improbable — something so cool and heartwarming— comes together in a moment that is simply magical.

In his first MLB at-bat, facing his first pitch, on his first swing in a Tigers uniform, Akil Baddoo hit a home run over the left-field fence in Comerica Park — on Easter Sunday no less.

And remember, Baddoo was a long shot to even make this team.

But that’s the ending of the story.

Let’s go back to the night before the home run, because that will explain everything.

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On Saturday night, Baddoo was hanging out with his parents and two brothers at an Airbnb in Detroit. They stayed with him for four days and tried to keep him grounded, tried to keep his mind off any pressure, tried to keep everything normal.

But then the boys started arguing, as brothers will do.

“I don’t even remember — it was something stupid,” Amir Baddoo, Akil’s 17-year-old brother, said.

Akil threw Amir onto the bed and they started wrestling. Play wrestling. Sort of. But both boys are both so determined, so competitive, so unrelenting, that they wouldn’t stop. They just dug deeper into that bed.

“He can’t get hurt,” Akilah Baddoo, their mother, screamed. “Stop! He’s got a game tomorrow.”

Not just a game. His MLB debut.

“Enough of that man, come on,” John Baddoo, his father, said.

She was videotaping it: “Nobody will believe this.”

“I had to break that up,” John said, laughing. “I had to literally pull them apart.”

So that’s the competitive fire that burns inside the Tigers’ rookie — the thing that has fueled him from the minor leagues, past Tommy John surgery and into the big leagues.

After things calmed down, they debated what his walk-up song should be.

Funny, right? You never think how things like that get chosen.

“You should play something like calypso, something from Trinidad,” his mother said. “He wanted to play a rap song.”

He picked several.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Let me see the words.”

So they went over songs and lyrics until they went to bed.

Before Baddoo went to the park on Sunday morning, John gave his son some advice:  “This is your destiny. You don’t have to do anything else. Just keep going out and playing baseball.”

“You can do all things through Christ,” his mother said.

Hug and kisses.

“I massaged his head, to make sure his braids looked nice and neat,” she said. “So he looks nice and clean.”

Confidence from his parents

Baddoo was the story of spring training for the Tigers.

A Rule 5 draft pick, he earned a spot on this roster because he was exceptional. Because he has played with so much confidence.

You wanna know where that comes from? His parents.

On Sunday afternoon, while waiting for Akil to get his first at-bat, his parents debated where his first home run was going to land. They weren’t nervous. They were calling his shot.

“If he hits it, it’s going over the Meijer sign,” John said, pointing to an ad on the right field fence.

“It’s gonna be ‘oppo,’ ” Akilah said, pointing to left field.

His mother would prove to be right.

“I felt something great was going to happen,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day. It’s Easter Sunday, you know? Like something’s great is gonna happen. I don’t have any nerves for whatever reason. I’m just ready for him to get up there.”

Before his at-bat, his parents said a prayer.

“God, let him play up to his abilities,” his father prayed. “Keep him safe, keep his strong.  Hold him and just give him everything you want him to have.”

Advice from his teammates

Baddoo’s teammates gave him advice.

“The guys around me definitely told me, ‘Hey, man, carry what you did in spring training — it’s the same,’” Baddoo said. “So I kind of did that and played relaxed.”

It happened so fast, there was no real buildup. Baddoo faced Cleveland right-hander Aaron Civale in the third inning and crushed a fastball 372 feet, over the left-field fence, to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead.

He flipped his bat and screamed as he rounded first: “Let’s go!”

His parents gave each other two-handed high fives.

“I knew it!” his mother screamed. “I knew it!”

After touching home, Baddoo pointed at his parents in the stands, a seriously cool moment on top of an amazing moment.

“I was able to hit it in front of my family and everyone, so I was able to make everyone proud,” he said after the Tigers lost, 9-3. “My mom, dad, brothers — I can name a whole bunch of people — they’ve been with me every step of the way.”

His father nearly ran down the aisle. “I’m glad I didn’t do that and embarrass him,” his father said. “I think it just speaks volumes. That’s who he is. That’s just the type of kid he’s always been.”

He was mobbed by his teammates in the dugout.

“He had a big smile on his face,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We let him enjoy the moment… you only have one first game in your whole career and these are going to get very routine for him when he starts playing more and more. And the newness of the league and the newness of being a big leaguer is gonna wear off a little bit. That emotion that he felt (is) gonna last him a lifetime.

“He has the talent to do a lot of different things. I knew he would give me everything he’s got, that’s been very evident from the beginning.”

It was remarkable on so many levels.

He has never played above High-A in the minors.

“It was all kind of like a blur,” he told the media.

“I loved every second of it.

“The Lord was watching me the whole time,” he said. “He’s blessed me.”

His parents plan to stay two more days.

Because they believe something amazing can happen again. They have faith.

Because that’s who they are.

And that’s who their son is.

If he would just stop wrestling his brothers.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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