Dean J. Condoleo Dean J. Condoleo | September 23, 2022 |
PHOTO COURTESY OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
AS ONE OF THE KEY MEMBERS OF THE 2021 ATLANTA BRAVES WORLD SERIES-WINNING ROSTER, AUSTIN RILEY (@AUSTIN_RILEY8) WILL BE PLAYING THIRD BASE FOR ANOTHER DECADE OF HOPEFUL FUTURE CHAMPIONSHIPS. RILEY HAD AN ENTIRE JOURNEY STARTING IN EARLY CHILDHOOD TO GET WHERE HE’S AT NOW. HERE, RILEY TALKS HIS JOURNEY FROM BEING A KID IN MISSISSIPPI TO AN MVP CANDIDATE AND WORLD SERIES CHAMPION IN ATLANTA.
How would you describe growing up in Mississippi? At what point did you know you were going to make a career out of playing baseball?
Life in Mississippi was pretty simple. For me, it was baseball, baseball, baseball. Ever since I could walk, I had a bat in my hand. Anytime my dad and I were out there playing baseball, whether it was throwing, fielding ground balls, it seemed like baseball was always what we were gravitating to. Growing up, my friends had summers where they went to the lake, beach or river. My family and I were always jumping in a car going to a baseball game or to another baseball tournament. Baseball was my life. I committed to Mississippi State my sophomore year of high school, and that’s when I realized I may have a shot at this baseball thing. I first committed there as a catcher, and then during my sophomore and junior year of high school, I started pitching. They [Mississippi State] decided that I could pitch then play third. Getting closer to the draft, mostly everybody had been looking at me as a pitcher. The Braves and someone else, I can’t remember the other team, were the only teams that wanted me as a position player. I backed out of the draft as a pitcher and went in as a position player, saying that if I didn’t get what I wanted, I was going to college, and luckily the Braves gave me the opportunity.
What was it like for not only you, but your family, being drafted by and receiving your first contract with the Braves out of high school?
They’ve been the most supportive parents, and I wouldn’t be here without them. They let me make my own decisions, and I’m forever grateful for that. They didn’t press me into doing anything. They told me, ‘If you want to go to college, go to college.’ My mom always told me, ‘Hey, if you want to quit baseball tomorrow, I will fully support that. I don’t know if you’d be smart to do that, but I’d fully support it.’ Both my parents went to Mississippi State. My dad played baseball and football there, so they were excited when I committed. The whole process of going to the draft, we initially thought, if it’s life-changing money, then I need to take that and pursue it. I was fortunate enough to get that, and they’ve been behind me every step of the way.
Describe your pregame routine.
When I wake up, I’m a big Starbucks guy. I hang around and chill until it’s time to go to the field. My cage work is really simple: three different little drills that I do that keep me in my checkpoints. I do a little front toss, then I do Wash’s drills. He gets a little upset if you don’t do that. I try to work out three times a week and prepare for the game. I watch the pitcher on video to try and get a game plan on how I can attack him and go from there. The game is already complicated, so I try to keep everything else as simple as possible.
How would you describe the feeling of winning the World Series?
I explain it like this: I say Mike Trout, one of the greatest guys of our time, has never made the playoffs, and at 24, I won the World Series. I can’t put it into words how awesome that feeling was to be a part of a group like that that came together so well. I think I told somebody, if my baseball career ended tomorrow, I’d be OK because the reason I play this game is to win ballgames and win a World Series, and we did it. Hopefully, there’s more in my future—that’s the goal—but it was unbelievable.
How would you describe the city of Atlanta with its history, people, restaurants and sights?
It’s very unique and interesting in its own way. Especially coming from a small town like I did, it’s very overwhelming with traffic and stuff like that. I love the city of Atlanta. When we won the World Series and came back and had the whole parade, to see the amount of people that were there, that’s where it sank in for me to understand really how this fan base works. They are so loyal to the Atlanta Braves, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this group for the next 10 years.
How does it feel to be in company with legends like Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron and Chipper Jones, and how excited are you to break even more records in ATL for the next 10 years?
It’s very humbling even to have your name mentioned in a group like that. It’s pretty surreal. Guys like Hank Aaron, and what he meant to the game of baseball not only on the field, but off the field. I grew up watching Chipper, and it’s pretty crazy. I’m super blessed, and, hopefully, there’s more of those that I catch up to down the road. You don’t really know how to take it when someone says that you’re in the same category in whatever you just accomplished as a Hank Aaron of the world.
Describe how you got into hunting and what you enjoy most about it.
My dad was a big duck hunter growing up. I started out shooting doves, and then I killed my first deer with my uncle. He showed me the ropes of bow hunting, and that’s how it started. Being around a family that loved to hunt, I fell in love with it and haven’t turned back since. I would love some property in Mississippi someday down the road. I have a little boy now that I can pass that on to.