WBC dream on hold for former Red Hawk Ivan Acuña

Photos courtesy of Scott Stevenson/Équipe de France de Baseball
Photos courtesy of Scott Stevenson/Équipe de France de Baseball

HICKORY, N.C. — The month of March was both a dream and a nightmare for former Catawba Valley Community College baseball standout Ivan Acuña.

It's been a whirlwind start to the 2020 calendar year for Acuña, who completed his three-month winter professional baseball season in January with the Bravos de Margarita of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League before getting married in February.

Less than a month later on March 6, Acuña earned his biggest career achievement so far in baseball when he was selected to the Team France for the World Baseball Classic qualifying round — one of 28 players to earn a spot on the roster.

Acuña was eligible for Team France by virtue of his residency in the country, but his stout play, which included batting .409 for the Lions de Savigny in France's top-division league, helped earn him the attention that garnered him a roster spot.

"It is a great honor to be selected to play for a national team, especially if you were not born in that country," said Acuña, a Caracas, Venezuela native. "Last year, I had a pretty successful season in the French League. I made a good impression and I built good relationships with not only my club, but others as well and opened some doors."

The invitation to play on Team France was especially exciting for Acuña because he would be playing under former San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy — a winner of three World Series.

During the preparation for the WBC in Arizona, Acuña was able to learn from not on Bochy, but a veteran coaching staff that includes Bochy's brother Joe and 35-year coaching veteran Steve Smith.

"The amount experience that those three guys have together is longer than a whole lifetime," Acuña said. "I'm always trying to be a sponge and absorb as much as I can, especially with those types of coaches."

Acuña, who played catcher and infield for the Lions de Savigny, was preparing to make yet another switch in position to left field for Team France, but the move wasn't something that bothered the former two-time All-Region 10 performer.

"As long as I'm in the line up, I don't care," he said. "I've always tried to be a versatile player and help the team out in any way I can."

However, Acuña's World Baseball Classic appearance has been derailed with COVID-19 pandemic forcing Major League Baseball to postpone the qualifying round on March 12.

Not only was Acuña's baseball future on hold, but with travel from the United States to Europe in limbo, he feared he would be stranded in Arizona away from his new wife, Joselyn.

Despite his fears, Acuña flew back to France the day after the postponement of the WBC qualifiers to be reunited with her.

"It was very uncomfortable," he said. "The fact that there was a chance of staying stuck was not pleasant at all, but now we are together in France so I guess everything worked out."

Being without the game he's played his whole life has been difficult, especially with his potential WBC appearance on hold, but Acuña has used his unusual down time to do some self reflection and understand that there are much more important things going on in his life than the game of baseball.

"It's awful, especially after being on the field everyday and feeling like a superstar," he said. "The World Baseball Classic also gave us a bunch of gear and stuff to use, and I can't use it. However, this is a time for us to really focus on what is important — our health and the health of the entire world."

Acuña also had a message for the current batch of Catawba Valley Community College student athletes who had their spring sports seasons cut short.

"I could only imagine what the sophomores are going through because I have some of my greatest baseball memories as a sophomore at CVCC, but I want them to just remember that everything happens for a reason, and God will make everything as he has planned."

With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Acuña hopes to play baseball again this summer for his second season with the Lions de Savigny.

Regardless of what happens in his baseball future though, Acuña is thankful for his journey so far and said that being a student athlete at Catawba Valley Community College has helped shape his baseball career and life so far.

"It was the first step," Acuña said of being at CVCC. "It was the base for my life. If you don't have a strong base, you aren't going to get anywhere. The culture that we've built there at CVCC — it's what has made me be the player and the person that I am today."