A few minutes later he scored a run for the Diamond Jaxx, a minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.
It was a brief flashback to the college days, when the Walnut Cove native and former Carolina star hit almost everything thrown at him.
Ackley was 4-for-11 at the plate and reached base 14 times during the four-game series with the Mudcats in what was a homecoming of sorts.
Ackley’s transition to professional baseball hasn’t been without its share of challenges - the grueling schedule, powerful pitching and adjusting to a new position.
“It’ been a learning experience,” Ackley said.
“All the travel, playing seven days a week, learning a new position. All that factors in. It’s been pretty tough but as the days go on I get more and more comfortable, so I feel pretty good.”
Last summer, the Mariners drafted Ackley, who was widely considered the best hitter in college baseball, with the No. 2 overall pick and later reached a deal with Ackley worth more than $7 million.
Ackley, who played outfield and first base with the Tar Heels, is now being groomed to play second base.
“Second base is a tough position. No matter how much I practice it’s always going to be hard,” Ackley said. “It’s just one of those things, you go out every day and as you get more ground balls and more double plays it starts to come natural.”
The combination of hitting with wooden bats instead of aluminum and facing big-time pitching every night has also provided a new challenge.
“Great pitching. I see a lot of guys I’d seen in college so it’s like you basically see a Friday night starter every night so that’s the biggest thing,” Ackley said. “Seven days a week, you are seeing these great pitchers and if you get late in the ball game you are seeing their best closer, so it’s a pretty big adjustment, but I feel pretty good about it now.”
At week’s end, he was batting .216 with 10 doubles, 21 runs, 14 RBIs and a team-high 34 walks.
Family members, friends and fans turned out to watch Ackley over the weekend in Zebulon, about an hour from Chapel Hill. After the game, Ackley graciously stopped to sign autographs for a few young fans.
Following an afternoon game with the Mudcats, the Diamond Jaxx were scheduled to travel to Chattanooga for a game with the Lookouts on Memorial Day - continuing a stretch of 20 games in 20 days. The drive from Jackson, Tenn. to Zebulon was 12 hours.
“There’s a game every day,” Ackley said. “It’s pretty taxing, you just find a way to get your rest and come out here and play. I hadn’t been back in a while. Any time it’s good to get back and see some family and go back to Chapel Hill.”
Ackley holds numerous baseball records at North Carolina and helped South Stokes win back-to-back 1A state championships in the early 2000s.