Late Saturday night, Austin Riley stepped into the batter's box in the ninth inning of the Braves' playoff game, and the whole place was going nuts. There were screams of anticipation and shouts of encouragement -- from the Mississippi living room of Riley's high school coach, Mark Monaghan. As Riley, stoic as ever, began his at-bat in Truist Park about 400 miles away, Monaghan watched from his couch alongside his wife, two daughters and two cats and family dog, a boxer named Manny Ramirez Pacquiao, whose ears perked at the commotion.
Monaghan has been watching Riley hit since the summer after his freshman year in high school, and now, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, he could see Riley extinguishing his emotion, slowing everything down. The teenager who had been so adept at making adjustments, at exploring the flaws in his own work and affecting corrections, has evolved into a young adult at the very top of his profession. The new draftee who didn't want his DeSoto Central High School jersey number retired until after he had done something worthy is still making adjustments, still humble, still hungry to learn.