The best story in baseball faded for a bit. But Detroit Tigers rookie Akil Baddoo is back

Detroit Free Press

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Akil Baddoo stormed onto the baseball stage three weeks ago. The Detroit Tigers’ rookie outfielder became a national story. Which is stunning … that any part of baseball can still drive a national audience — forgive me, lovers of the telegraph.  

Yet other than Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star game from Atlanta in response to Georgia’s voting law, Baddoo — for a few days, at least — created more buzz than anyone else in the game. 

Then he began to strike out

Eight times in 11 at-bats, part of an 0-for-15 scuffle, during which the Tigers were swept in Oakland last week, a douse of ice water on all that combustion. 

JEFF SEIDEL: How surprise finding sent Akil Baddooe rushing to airport during his unforgettable week

Baseball is like that, of course. Baddoo wasn’t going to hit .370 for the season, which is the batting average carried from Houston to California. Nor was he going to keep tossing 0-for-15s out there, either.  

He stopped the mini slump with a double Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates then cracked a triple and another double Thursday in the afternoon series finale. The triple drove in a run to get the Tigers on the board, though they eventually lost, 4-2

And the double? 

Baddoo hit it to begin the bottom of the seventh, a left-center blast that carried just over the bullpen cushion and would’ve been a home run if not for Phillip Evans’ gloving the ball before dropping it as he reached back toward the field. 

A few inches further and the Tigers take the lead, and maybe the eighth inning unfolds differently, and the bullpen holds on and Baddoo is the headline again. Instead, he had to stop at second base. 

[ Tigers’ Jose Urena proving a sound investment after second strong outing ]

The next batter, Victor Reyes, ripped it to right field, but straight into the glove of Gregory Polanco. JaCoby Jones was on deck. The center fielder has struggled early this season. But he had hit a home run to tie the game in the fifth and sprinted toward the wall to rob Todd Frazier of a triple, or even an inside-the-park home run. 

It was a spectacular play and when Jones stepped to the plate in the seventh, he was feeling loose. He lifted the first pitch into center field. The ball had a little air in it, though, and Baddoo froze near second, waiting to make sure it would plop safely in the grass. 

The hesitation caused too late a start, and when he neared third base, Chip Hale held him up. A year from now, maybe a month from now, Baddoo might have a better read on the ball there and take off a second or two earlier.  

If he had, he scores. 

He is learning. Or, processing, as Tigers manager AJ Hinch said after another tough loss: 

“I think we have to let Akil sort of have this one step forward, mini-steps back, a couple steps forward, and he’s developing nicely. He’s handling the moments pretty well.” 

But the curve isn’t simply navigating moments. It’s sifting through information, lots of it. 

“Everybody’s coming at him,” said Hinch. “I see Niko (Goodrum) talking to him all the time. I’ve got my coaching staff all over him. We’ve got the advanced scouting stuff. I mean, he’s getting a lot thrown at him. So, he’s processing it in great.” 

HE’S NOT DONE: Why Akil Baddoo isn’t a surprise: ‘He’s going to continue to do great things’

That’s the key word, right?  

Processing? 

That’s what this is for Baddoo. For he isn’t merely a rookie. He’s a 22-year-old who hadn’t played above Single A ball. But then you probably know that having read his life story every day after he blasted the first pitch he ever saw in the big leagues over the fence. 

Yeah, it’s a great story. It may continue to be a great story. 

The doubles and the triple the last two days is a reminder of his talent, particularly the triple that scored Goodrum on Wednesday. That rope came off a breaking ball, which had been flummoxing Baddoo as of late.  

But it hung up in the zone and he took advantage. In Oakland, he couldn’t make pitchers pay for their mistakes. The last two days, he has. Like Hinch said, he is learning.  

JEFF SEIDEL: How Baddoo went from wrestling his brother to a magical debut homer

It takes time. Time to hit almost home runs and time to make baserunning errors. Time to drive in runs and time to get a better handle on score and the moment. Moments like the bottom of the ninth, when your team is trailing by two runs, and you’re leading off the inning, and, more than anything, you need to find a way on base. 

Baddoo has a sneaky good eye at the plate. He hasn’t chased much out of the strike zone. Yet with the count full and the nerves jingling and a four-seam fastball rising up and away, he couldn’t resist.  

He chased it. Hard. As if swinging for the fence. 

Next month?  

Or even next game? 

He might lay off, toss the bat, and take his walk.  

Despite the struggle out west, Baddoo still ranks among the team leaders for hits, on-base percentage and slugging. He leads in runs driven in. Yes, a metric of opportunity. Still, a metric that lends itself to storytelling.  

Baddoo’s is still a great one. It’s also a long, long way from being told.  

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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