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Love & baseball: Acuña ties knot, makes history

LOS ANGELES — Ronald Acuña Jr. kept a ticket from Thursday night’s game at Dodger Stadium and presented it to his longtime girlfriend, and now wife, Maria Laborde, inscribing it with the following message, written in Spanish:

For the rest of my life, I hope you never forget this incredibly special day for us.

The day began with a hurried yet captivating wedding ceremony and ended with Acuña making history, hitting the grand slam that propelled the Atlanta Braves to an 8-7 victory over the similarly dominant Los Angeles Dodgers and made him the first player ever to combine 30 home runs and 60 stolen bases in a season.

His new wife and their two sons, 2-year-old Ronald Daniel and 11-month-old Jamall, watched from Section 108.

“We’re a family,” Acuña told ESPN in Spanish. “Since we’ve known each other, we’ve wanted to be together. We have two kids. Family is meant to be together. That comes before anything else. I’m really happy that’s going to happen now.”

Acuña, 25, and Maria, 23, met about four years ago and got engaged in January. But under the terms of her Venezuelan visa, Maria had to leave the United States by the end of the week and wouldn’t be allowed to return for another three months, keeping her and the children away for a stretch run that, given the way this season has played out, could result in either a World Series championship or an MVP or both.

Acuña didn’t want to experience any of that without them.

Getting married sooner would have solved the problem, but he needed to act quickly.

At 10 a.m. ET Wednesday, Acuña called his business manager, Nick Drbal of Xample, asking him to schedule the fastest wedding imaginable. It needed to happen in Los Angeles, the site of the Braves’ upcoming road series. Within 24 hours, a venue, Whispering Oaks in Agoura Hills, California, was booked; an officiant was found; and a full-fledged ceremony was taking place. Drbal flew the family to L.A. on Wednesday afternoon. Acuña arrived at the team hotel at about 2 a.m. Thursday, awoke five hours later and was driven 35 miles north to tie the knot, expediting a wedding that was initially supposed to take place in their native Venezuela over the winter.

“It means a lot to me,” Acuña said. “The kids were born here, but the mom needs to come and go. I don’t like that process. It’s really a hassle. If we go to the playoffs, if we go to the World Series, and they’re not with me, it’s tough. I want my family to be here with me.”

Acuña’s grand slam, off Dodgers right-hander Lance Lynn in the second inning, was also the 150th homer of his career, making him the second player in major league history to record 150 homers and 150 steals at age 25 or younger. The other player to do that is Mike Trout. Barry Bonds (1990) and Eric Davis (1987) reached 30 homers and 50 steals, but until Acuña, nobody had ever combined 30 and 60.

Acuña did it on the final day of August, with an entire month of regular-season games still ahead of him. And he did it while squaring off against Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, the two men challenging him for the National League’s MVP Award.

Betts homered twice Thursday — one of which sailed just past Acuña’s reach in right field — to cap a historic month that saw him slash .455/.516/.839 and become the first player since Joe DiMaggio in 1939 to accumulate 50 hits and 10 homers in August. Freeman (.374/.434/.617 slash line in August) and Acuña (.352/.432/.574) also surged through the month, producing what promises to be a captivating MVP race down the stretch.

September began with Betts leading the NL with 7.8 FanGraphs wins above replacement, with Freeman (6.9) and Acuña (6.7) right behind him.

Acuña’s presence in the MVP race is largely a product of perseverance. The 2022 season marked his return from a torn ACL, but he wasn’t himself. His numbers — .764 OPS, 15 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 119 games — were solid but unspectacular. His burst wasn’t the same. His knee was a continual hindrance. So he worked on his conditioning, tweaked his mechanics and became a more disciplined hitter who retained the same jaw-dropping tools that made him a transcendent talent at age 21.

He credits his wife and kids for helping him through it.

Now, instead of returning to South America, the three of them will settle in Acuña’s Marietta, Georgia, home and travel with him for whatever September and October presents. Acuña hopes to depart on his honeymoon shortly after the World Series.

“It’s really complicated when players are alone, because when things are going bad you don’t have that support,” Acuña said. “Family is the most important thing in life.”

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