How surprise finding sent Akil Baddoo rushing to airport during his unforgettable week

Detroit Free Press

The legend of Detroit Tigers rookie Akil Baddoo is two different stories, happening at the same time.

The first has unfolded in public. Baddoo’s debut in the major leagues has been remarkable. He hit a home run in his first major league at-bat, a grand slam in his second game, had the game-winning hit in his third and a triple in his fourth.

“Akil Baddoo is one of the best stories in America right now,” Jon Morosi, an MLB writer (and former Freeper), wrote on Twitter.

But the other side of this story is just as interesting. It’s a behind-the-scenes drama for him and his family — a story that’s both universal and relatable — as a 22-year-old kid moves out of his parents’ house and gets a place in a new city.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Akil Baddoo was surprise of spring for the Tigers. It was a no brainer to keep him.

So how did Baddoo celebrate his game-winning hit on Tuesday? How did his family react?

It played out like a sitcom.

“I kid you not — it is the Baddoo story,” Akilah Baddoo, his mother, said laughing.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Akil’s mother and father spent several days in the Motor City, helping their son move into a townhouse.

“We were driving his truck the whole time, making sure his townhouse was together,” his mother said. “Making sure everything’s taken care of.”

They went to a few innings of Tuesday’s game at Comerica Park but had to leave early because of a 6 p.m. flight back to Atlanta. They rushed to his Airbnb and got their stuff.

“We were like, ‘everyone have everything?’” his mother said. “Yep, yep, yep.”

The Uber was waiting.

“Let’s go,” she said. “Let’s go!”

While going through security, John Baddoo, Akil’s father, realized he had his son’s keys — to his truck and his townhouse — in his pocket.

“He starts screaming: ‘Oh my gosh!’” his mother said. “TSA is like, ‘Is everything okay?’”

John started sweating.

“Someone, please let us leave the keys, so Akil can just pick it up,” his mother said. “The lady was like, ‘no, no, no.’”

At the same time, John was trying to follow the game on his phone.

Akilah found a manager: “I was like, ‘sir, we just made the biggest mistake and our son is playing baseball,’” she said. “All you hear is, ‘oh my gosh, Akil’s up to bat.'”

“Then John says: Ball 1!”

John tried to explain the situation to someone from TSA.

“Well, can he come and get the keys?” the person from TSA said.

“No, he’s playing with the Tigers,” John said. “He’s batting right now.”

Then John said: “Ball 2!”

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“I was like, this is crazy,” Akilah said. “You got his keys, he’s up to bat. This is not going to work. I don’t even believe this. TSA is like, what the heck is wrong with this guy? All of a sudden, John goes: ‘Oh my gosh, they called a strike.’”

Then, came the magical moment.

Akilah singled to right field, knocking in the winning run and the Tigers broke into a celebration.

“You gotta be kidding me!” John screamed. “He just won the game. AHHHH!”

They started screaming.

“TSA started surrounding us,” Akilah said.

Their two other sons ran off. And it was such a crazy scene, such a crazy commotion, that Akilah had a strange thought.

“I thought they were going to arrest us,” she said. “My sons were like, ‘we are out of here. you are the most embarrassing parents on earth. Everyone’s looking at us.’”

There was no time to celebrate because they were still late for the flight.

Akilah and John had appeared on TV for two straight days, as cameras caught their emotions. And ESPN showed the replays.

And now, they were running through the airport.

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“This lady sees me in a panic,” Akilah said. “And she’s like, ‘Are you Akil Baddoo’s mom?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, the craziest thing happened. We took his keys.’ I’m just running my mouth. And then she was like, ‘oh my gosh, I saw you guys on TV. You guys are such a beautiful family,’ and she starts crying.”

And Akilah started crying.

“I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, my baby,’” she said.

But still, what to do about the keys?

Another person saw the commotion and volunteered to help.

And in that moment, about to board a plane, Akilah trusted him enough to give him the keys.

“He was so kind,” Akilah said.

Yes, Detroiters help each other.

“He was like, I’ll do it, here’s my information,” Akilah said. “He said, ‘Tell him come in before 8:30. I’ll have his keys waiting for him.’ And that’s what happened. So we left it with him.”

‘Your family is crazy’

Back in Detroit, the Tigers celebrated on the field. The players hit Baddoo with water and powder and soda.

“So I’m like texting him,” his mother said. “And I’m like, ‘Listen. Great game, guy. I’m glad you were able to do your thing.’ ”

She was trying to keep it casual.

“By the way, your dad took your keys,” she texted. “The keys are at the airport. Don’t freak out. We’ve got a guy there who is gonna give them to you. Just get there as soon as possible before 8:30. So if you have any press stuff to do, do it quick and get to the airport, get the dad-gum keys and get back home.”

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“He was like, you guys are crazy,” she said. “He’s like, Who is this guy?”

“I have no clue,” she replied. “Here’s his name. And he was like, you guys are crazy. Oh my God.”

After Baddoo did a postgame media interviews, he texted his mother.

“I’m on my way,” he said. “Niko (Goodrum) is taking me.”

She laughed, telling the story.

“Niko is like, ‘your family is crazy,’” she said. “So Niko took him to the airport. I think he even slept over at Niko’s.”

And if there is a message in this story, Akilah said she hopes it keeps her son humble.

Win the game. Go get the keys.

“It will humble him,” she said, laughing. “That was only favored from God. It could not have been any other way.”

Called it in a text

But wait.

There’s one more part to this story.

The triple.

Akilah was driving down the highway on Wednesday when one of his youth coaches sent her a message. “I’m like, What happened now?” she said.

He hit a triple.

“He’s like, ‘this kid is amazing. He’s doing all the things that we thought he would do.'”

John had sent his son a text Wednesday morning.The text said: “No long speech this morning. Impact baseball. Love to see a triple. Don’t look back, don’t look ahead, only be in this moment. Make Detroit great again.”

A couple of hours later, Akil followed it up with a three-base hit in the right-center field gap.

Of course, John sent the text to his wife, too.

“Oh, you think you made him hit a triple because you sent him that text?” she said. “He said, ‘well, I sent him that text. You didn’t.’ It was so funny. Hilarious.”

‘In the middle of everything’

What a debut.

After four games, Baddoo is hitting the cover off the ball and has even made a fine defensive play.

“Akill has been in the middle of everything,” manager AJ Hinch said. “His first few games have been about as active as you can get when you’re getting introduced to the big leagues.”

The next step is even more important. Pitchers will make adjustments to Baddoo, trying to find his weaknesses. Ultimately, Baddoo’s success will be determined by how he adjusts.

“This is going to be a process for Akil, as he sees different teams and different different styles,” Hinch said. “The damage that he’s done so far — he’s not going to get a lot of free strikes. Word gets around the league faster than then than ever. But I like how he’s competitive in these at-bats … I think a lot of people are going to break out new things to Akil as he gets more comfortable.”

While the Tigers are on their road trip, his mother plans to return to Detroit.

“To give his townhouse the mom touch,” she said. “Just so he’s comfortable. He’s got enough on his mind.”

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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