On July 30 he was called up from triple A Gwinett. When he arrived in Atlanta he knew his role would be as a pinch hitter or a defensive replacement. On the night of July 30, he spent the first part of the game waiting to be called when needed.
“I was in the dugout and then I went back and watched film and late in the game I went back to the dugout,” he told the Jacksonville Exchange Club at last week’s meeting at the Train Depot.
Then he heard the coach say, “Todd you’re hitting.”
“That’s when all the freak was going on inside me,” he said. “I walked out to the batter’s circle and made sure I had all my gear I needed. Then I started to get focused and that focus became more and more narrow. It was like tunnel vision.”
And then he connected with a low pitch and lined the ball to the outfield.
“When I got to first base I started to realize what I had done,” he said. “That’s when my legs began to wobble.”
When he got home he looked at his cell phone and he had 180 texts and 40 voicemails. He had 200 messages on Facebook.
“I realized that at that moment there were a lot of people supporting me,” Cunningham said. “It wasn’t just me, it was the support around me. Not just the nine guys on the field, not just the 40,000 people in the stands and not the x-amount of people watching on television.
“What I was able to do was just part of something much bigger than me. I have a lot of people behind me.”
He recalled the baseball camps that former Jacksonville State coach Rudy Abbott conducted, his Jacksonville High School coach David Deerman and his college coach Jim Case at JSU.
Cunningham entered the season with two goals – express himself at every opportunity and redefine himself every day.
“My life built up to that moment and you have an emotional high and then it’s over,” he said. “Then you realize you get to do it over the next day.”
Cunningham, who was valedictorian of his class at Jacksonville High, wants to be a sports psychologist after his baseball career is over.
He entered last season not really knowing about his future with the Braves. They had just acquired the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward was taking the other outfield spot. Plus, there were several other outfielders with more experience than Todd.
When he was at training camp, the Braves had him meet with a sports psychologist to talk about what he wanted to accomplish during the season. Todd told him that his ultimate goal was to play in the big leagues. His other two goals were to express his himself and to redefine himself after every game.
The psychologist offered him something else. He told Todd to approach every game like it was a big league game. Todd took it to heart.
“We didn’t have a good team at Gwinett because guys kept going up and down to Atlanta,” he said. “But I just kept focusing on my goals.”
He put together a good year with the Braves’ top farm club. He had a .265 batting average with 38 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases.
After a game in Charlotte when he bruised his hand, the team had an off day and several of his friends decided to spend some time on a nearby lake.
“There were five or six of us who just wanted to get away for a day,” Todd said. “But we knew it was nearing trade deadline and there was a lot of talk going around. Then I get a call at midnight and the first thing I think is that I’m traded. But it was the manager telling me to report to Turner Field the next day.”
He finished his brief tenure with the Braves with two hits in eight at bats. He is on the Braves’ 40-man roster.
“If I leave you with anything it would be to do the things that matter and keep redefining yourself,” he said.