The talented Mr. Riley: Q&A with Braves third baseman on making All-Star team and fatherhood
At first, the “Austin Riley for MVP” chants came mostly from Marietta. The Atlanta Braves third baseman’s 18 home runs and 43 RBIs through June were good, but there were plenty of big leaguers who posted similar numbers.
Then July came and the Riley hits kept coming. He would earn his first All-Star Game invite and be named National League Player of the Month. Those previous whispers were starting to get louder.
Now, we’re well into August, and the rockets haven’t stopped coming out of Riley’s bat. At press time, in fact, he had 30 homers and 65 extra hits leading the Majors. August 11, VegasInsider.com gave the young Atlanta star the second best odds to win the NL MVP title. The whispers turned into an absolute roar.
But that’s not the most distinctive sound Riley hears these days. On April 20, Austin’s wife Anna gave birth to their first child, Eason. And as you’ll read in the following interview, the 2 a.m. screams can still take some getting used to. But Riley beat .320 in the World Series a year ago; he is certainly ready to take on any challenge parents throw at him.
Let’s go back a bit. When you found out you were on the All-Star team, what did you do?
I was in Washington [D.C.]. This is where we met before the break. [Atlanta manager Brian Snitker] called me around 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning. He was like, “Late notice, but you’re going.” I was like, “Heck yeah!” I was super pumped. I was lucky enough to have time to take my parents and my wife to California [for the game]. It was an incredible experience. Super grateful. I’m glad my parents and my wife were able to be there to experience it all.
Do you think your game is still under the radar domestically?
You know, in a way, I don’t think so. I’m just playing the game. I’m not flashy. My biggest thing is that I let the play on the pitch speak for itself. I think that’s a big part of my game. My biggest goal, day in and day out, is just to win football games. It really is. I feel like if I could put this as my number one priority, everything else will sort itself out. I like where I am. I feel like I’m playing well.
Speaking of your game, it’s been great. You are about to eclipse all the good numbers you had last year. What upgrades are you most pleased with this season?
I think the most important thing for me is to keep being consistent. I feel like that’s the name of the game, and I feel like I’m able to do it now. And I feel like I’ve developed a routine – which took me a while to find – that works for me.
Tell me a bit about that game day routine.
So obviously you have Wash Drills [with Braves third base coach Ron Washington]. You can’t miss them. He gets angry. And then there is cage work. I have some exercises. I start with the one-handed drill. And then I know it’s a little weird, but I put a baseball glove on top of my head and I do exercises because I think that’s a big thing for me – trying to keep my head up as still as possible. So it’s an exercise. And I do an exercise that we call “the Catch Drill”. I don’t know, but you may have seen [New York Mets first baseman] Pete Alonzo does it during batting practice. It’s just contact, you stop your bat a bit just to feel the contact. These are three things that I really insisted on and that helped me, day after day, to be quite consistent.
Not only did you become an All-Star for the first time in 2022, but you also became a dad. Tell me a bit about this trip so far.
It was crazy. Me and my wife were actually at dinner last night [talking]. He was three months old, eight or nine days ago. I have the impression that it is overflown! I don’t even remember the games I played the first two weeks after he arrived. Everything was blurry. But it was the best thing ever. He’s such a good baby. I learn a lot about myself and about patience. Run over a few hours of sleep and be okay with that. I learn everything.
What are some things you learn about yourself by becoming a father?
I’m just thinking about the patience part of things. I am ADD the frame. I can’t sit still. But I learned to relax, watch TV, spend time with him and enjoy the little things in life.
The Braves were on fire in July, but things calmed down a bit in August. Why is the team in this little lull at the moment?
You know, really, I just think it’s the game of baseball. We had a few injuries. Of course, with Ozzy [Albies] and [Adam] Duvall here recently [going down with ailments, it hurts the team]. I think an important thing is just to get the band to get together and play with each other every day. I think that goes a long way in getting that cohesive grind together. You never want to see your teammates fall. But I think the most important thing is that it’s just the game of baseball. You’re going to go through these little slip-ups from time to time. It’s just a matter of keeping playing and keeping hooking up. I like where we are. And I think we still have a very good chance.
Fill in that blank for me. To get back to the World Series, the Braves have to do . . . ?
I think we just have to be consistent on a daily basis, play our game and not try to do too much. I really think that’s a big part of it. I think that’s what we were doing in the beginning when we were skidding there. We have a very good training, good pitchers. We just have to try not to overdo it, and I think we’re giving ourselves a chance.
With the baby, you don’t have much downtime for hobbies. I know you love the outdoors and hunting. But these days, how do you relax?
Honestly, hanging out with little man and my wife. It doesn’t matter if I go 0 for 4 or 4 for 4, going home with these guys was a real treat. We go out and take walks in the morning before it gets extremely hot. We have a miniature goldendoodle that we take for walks and stuff. We definitely do stuff to get out of the house and change the scenery.
Are there any particular parks or restaurants that are your favorites?
My favorite restaurant here in Atlanta – I think they have one in Memphis, where I’m also from – is the one in Houston. They have a Hawaiian ribeye that is to die for. We make it a point to go there about once a month.