Let Us Revel in Willians Astudillo's Majestic Home Run in the Venezuelan Winter League
Early January is the year’s bleakest stretch for baseball. Winter Meetings have come and gone. There’s still a little more than a month until pitchers and catchers report, and there’s even longer until the start of Spring Training. The Hall of Fame’s election results might provide a brief respite, but that’s still weeks away, too. Last season now seems far away—last year—and next season seems just as far. But there is baseball, as there will be on January 11, as there has been throughout most of this seemingly empty stretch. Right now, specifically, there is the postseason for the Venezuelan Winter League, and there is this delightful highlight.
That’s Minnesota Twins catcher-turned-utilityman-turned-cult hero Willians Astudillo—more than worthy of being your favorite player—with a game-winning home run, among other things. Let's count down the best parts of this majestic moment:
4. A pause before home plate
Astudillo has done it. He’s hit a home run; he’s marked the occasion with an amazing and endlessly meme-able celebration in the batter’s box (more on that later); he’s made his way around the bases with arms pumping and feet skipping and the crowd getting all the way into it. And now, he’s home. Almost. He’s going to take just a second here, and he’s going to stretch out these last few steps. Let the moment sink in. Let everyone feel its weight. In a few hours, it’ll be rewritten into a separate life on social media, captioned by cry-laughing emoji and one-line observations about what it is all supposed to mean. But right now, it is happening and it is real in a different way and Astudillo is granting everyone an extra few seconds. He’ll hit the celebration’s peak soon, and then it will be over. So here’s just a little more time, an extended chance to live inside the beating heart of a moment that is perfectly fun and silly and just so pure.
3. Astudillo’s helmet falls
Okay, now he’s really done it. He’s home! His teammates are here! They’re winning! And to kick off this next level of his celebration, here is a double-handed high-five to knock his helmet off. It would be a sweet move for anyone—look at the efficiency of motion here, the instant transfer of energy from the high-five to the helmet drop, a sharp exclamation point to punctuate the moment, without so much as a flick of the head from Astudillo—but it’s especially good here, because it has the added benefit of showing us that he’s apparently dyed his curls blonde since the end of the regular season. It’s a dramatic reveal that every makeover television program should envy. This is peak of the genre, so much better than swirling around a salon chair or dropping a curtain. This is canon now. There is no better way to show off a fresh hairstyle than to drop your helmet after a home run.
2. A quick break to bear witness
And now back to the beginning. You might think that the bat flip is the peak of all batter’s box celebrations—all the energy, the pride, the emotion, in the swirling arc of the toss. The bat flip is good! It’s great, even. But it’s not this good. By simply sitting still, Astudillo has conveyed far more than all the frenetic action of the bat flip ever could. Look at this, he says, This is magnificent. Just look. I deserve this. We all deserve this. It’s confident without being cocky, and it’s sweet without being cloying. It’s perfect. It’s Rodin’s Thinker sculpture, if Rodin’s Thinker sculpture was cool as hell.
1. This was not a walk-off
This is a celebration fit for a walk-off, but it wasn’t a walk-off. It was the postseason, sure, but it was only the eighth inning of a tie game: 1–1, Astudillo’s Caribes de Anzoategui against Navegantes del Magallanes. Astudillo’s solo shot broke that tie, obviously, and Caribes went on to win. The home run joins his eight dingers from the league’s regular season, second most in the Venezuelan Winter League and part of an overall excellent performance for the 27-year-old, as Jeff Sullivan pointed out last week at FanGraphs. But none of that matters here. Nothing before or after this moment matters. Anything could happen after this home run. The game could go into extra innings. Caribes could lose. Astudillo could suddenly find himself moved by a mysterious urge to walk away from baseball forever and enter a blissful early retirement. This is enough, though. This is worth celebrating. He’s not waiting until the game is over. He’s going for it now. Everyone should be so lucky.