Some elements of baseball are universal. Sixty feet, six inches separate the pitcher's mound and home plate. Three strikes, you're out. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is played in the middle of the seventh inning.
And in what apparently has become tradition with Double-A Mississippi, Drew Waters gets on base in the first inning.
Atlanta's No. 8 prospect knocked a leadoff hit in his seventh straight game and went 4-for-4 on Friday night as the M-Braves topped Jacksonville, 4-2, at Trustmark Park. Since the streak began on April 27, Waters is 15-for-28 (.536) to boost his average to a Southern League-leading .358.
Video: M-Braves' Waters aboard again
"I really haven't been too caught up with the streak I've been on," said Waters, MLB.com's No. 81 overall prospect. "I just kind of have taken it game by game and have just focused on having quality at-bats."
The streak is Waters' own doing, of course, but it's his brother, Zach, whom Waters credits with the approach that got it started. The two talk daily. Zach often offers advice. Weeks back, he was in Chattanooga to watch Waters and the M-Braves face the Lookouts. In the series finale, Waters went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts to earn the infamous golden sombrero.
On a phone call that night, Zach laid out a plan to avoid a repeat. He cited Waters' batting average on balls in play, which sits at .457.
"If you put the ball in play, watch what happens," Zach told Waters. "Go up there with the mentality of, 'This guy is not going to strike me out.'"
Since that chat on April 19, Waters has stressed to himself that the leadoff man's primary job is to get on base. And he's done it. He's struck out 10 times in 12 games, four of which were multi-hit outings. He's scored in eight of those contests.
"I try to do the same thing over and over again every day," Waters said. "Have the same routine, come in and do the same things. I work out first, and then I go hit, and then I go do defensive stuff. I just look at it from the standpoint of this is working for me so I'm not changing anything."
Gameday box score
His teammates, at times, have taken a more superstitious approach. Earlier this week, when the M-Braves were in Mobile, Waters singled in the first and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
With two outs, Jonathan Morales hit a ground ball to BayBears shortstop Connor Justus. Waters headed home assuming Justus was throwing to first, but the infielder bobbled the ball and didn't have a chance at getting it across the diamond for a forceout. So he threw home.
Waters was cooked. He got into a pickle between third and home and was tagged out. Worst of all, one of his cleats ripped as he tried to escape. He couldn't get a new pair in time for his next at-bat, but he doubled anyway.
"I was 2-for-2 and my teammates were like, 'Dude, you can't change your cleats,'" Waters said. "I'm like, 'But I got a hole in them.' They're like, 'No, you gotta stay. They're working.'"
But on Friday, Waters reinforced that he's not the real-life version of "Like Mike," and that no magical footwear will help him at the plate. Jumbo Shrimp starter Robert Dugger threw six pitches before Waters smacked a 92 mph fastball into center field to extend his streak. The Georgia high school product led off the fourth with another single to center, this one on an 0-2 count. In the sixth, Waters' base hit to left plated Daniel Lockhart with Mississippi's first run of the night. He evened out his spray chart with a single to right in the eighth off Elvis Araujo.
Waters' production rewards the Braves' aggression in assigning the 20-year-old to the Southern League in his second full professional season. It came after he began last year with Class A Rome, where he put together a .303/.353/.513 slash line with nine homers, six triples and 32 doubles in 84 games. He moved up to Class A Advanced Florida and batted .268/.316/.374 in 30 games. That was enough to start 2019 with the M-Braves.
"I look at it from a standpoint of they're trying to challenge me," he said. "I've always loved challenges."
2019 MiLB include
The challenge Friday was cracking Dugger, who worked with a 2-0 lead built by a sacrifice fly by Marlins No. 14 prospect Brian Miller in the fifth and an RBI single by 24th-ranked Bryson Brigman in the sixth. But after Waters got Mississippi on the board, Dugger misfired on a pickoff attempt that allowed Alejandro Salazar to race home. Andy Wilkins' two-run double, also in the sixth, capped the scoring.
Dugger (1-5) took the loss after allowing all four runs on six hits and a walk while striking out three over 5 2/3 frames.
Claudio Custodio (1-0) tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the win and Connor Johnstone worked around a hit by striking out one over two shutout frames for his first Double-A save.