Major League Baseball wants nothing more than to sell the public on a crop of young talent that plays unabashedly loud. Juan Soto embodied the Platonic Ideal of that marketing angle in Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night, announcing his arrival from the same train tracks Albert Pujols stood so many years ago.
The 20-year-old drove the Nationals' offense in a 5-4 victory over the Astros. In the fourth inning he blasted an opposite-field bomb off the mighty Gerrit Cole to level things up at 2-2. An inning later he scorched a line shot off the scoreboard in left for a two-run double which proved to be the game-winning hit. He'd later single and steal a base for good measure.
On a night of a thousand stars on the sport's biggest stage, Soto shined the brightest and played the loudest. It was shades of Andruw Jones in 1996 or perhaps Miguel Cabrera in 2003. Or if you'd prefer the wayback machine: Mickey Mantle in 1952.
A baby-faced player dominating a traditionally staid and older game is always arresting. There's something about seeing such remarkable poise at such an early age. Baseball is nothing if not dependent on managing emotions and blocking out the external noise. Soto did just that, shutting up a feverish and hostile home crowd to wrest control of the series over to the Beltway Boys.
The comparisons to past greats have come fast and furious. And they are all flattering. To me, he embodies vintage Ken Griffey Jr.: a player of limitless confidence, flair, and potential. He's already doing things Griffey never got the chance to do.
We really shouldn't be surprised. This is less a coming out party than a coronation. Soto posted a .949 OPS to go with 34 homers and 110 RBI in his first full season at the Major League level. He provided the clutch hit that lifted Washington past Milwaukee in the National League Wild Card game. He hit two homers in the series against Los Angeles and was magnificent in the deciding Game 5.
Soto isn't arriving. He's arrived. And he's done it his way. Some may not care for the way he stares down the pitcher and cleans the box after taking a pitch. But it's exactly the type of panache -- backed up by production -- that baseball is banking on to sustain itself in the future.
If that's a lot of pressure to put on one guy's shoulders, so be it. The kid has proven he's capable of bearing pretty much anything already.