Call him the Burrito Basher.
Alec Acosta, a former Miami Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and Plantation American Heritage baseball standout, had started 143 college games at Davidson and had hit just one home run.
Meanwhile, the Davidson Wildcats had played baseball in 114 previous seasons and had never made the NCAA tournament.
Both of those trends were turned upside down this summer, and it all started when Acosta went to El Birdos Cantina, a Tex-Mex restaurant in St. Louis, on May 23.
Never miss a local story.
The Wildcats were in Missouri to compete in their conference tournament, the Atlantic 10. Davidson’s only shot at making the NCAA field was winning this tournament, but there were five teams seeded ahead of them.
Davidson, in other words, was a long-shot.
But then Acosta ate a chicken burrito.
“It was delicious,” Acosta said. “The restaurant was near our team hotel, and I just wanted a cheap option for dinner.”
The next morning, Acosta hit a homer and drove in three runs in a 5-2 win over St. Bonaventure.
Obviously, the burrito worked, and Acosta kept going back to El Birdos Cantina before every game.
He ate eight burritos in five days, and he hit five homers in six games — shocking numbers for a 5-11, 195-pounder who had displayed so little power previously.
Davidson right fielder Will Robertson said he and his teammates had teased Acosta all season, saying he had “warning track power” — in other words, not enough juice to get the ball over the fence.
“We had to eat our words once he started eating those burritos,” Robertson said. “He will say it was the burritos, but I think that once he saw the first ball fly out, he just gained a lot of confidence.”
Even so, the more homers Acosta hit, the more his teammates started to flock to El Birdos Cantina. Eventually, each of his teammates had made the trip, including Robertson.
“I had to test the theory,” Robertson said. “I had to see if there was some magic in the burritos.”
Sure enough, Robertson hit a home run in his first game after devouring a quesadilla.
And sure enough, Davidson — still largely known as the alma mater of two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry — won the tournament, sending the Wildcats to the 64-team NCAA playoffs for the first time in history.
Acosta was named the Co-Most Valuable Player of the A-10 Tournament, but the Davidson story was just beginning.
Davidson, located in North Carolina, was kept close to home for the regional round of the playoffs. It was sent to the campus of the University of North Carolina, where the Tar Heels – the No. 2 national seeds - were an overwhelming favorite to advance.
Yet, Davidson, in its first NCAA tournament game ever, shocked the Tar Heels, 8-4.
Davidson beat North Carolina’s previously undefeated pitcher J.B. Bukauskas, a first-team All-American who was made a first-round draft pick by Major League Baseball less than two weeks later.
Bukauskas was drafted 15th overall by the Houston Astros, but he had been projected to possibly get selected among the top five selections before the poor game against Davidson in which he allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings.
“We definitely made him lose money,” Acosta said of Bukauskas’ professional signing bonus with Houston.
After that upset, Davidson beat Florida Gulf Coast 2-1 and then whipped North Carolina — again — 2-1 to win the regional.
Davidson, which never trailed throughout those three games at North Carolina, advanced to the NCAA Super Regional at Texas A&M.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that’s where the winning ended. Davidson lost 7-6 in the first of a best-of-three series against Texas A&M.
In the second game, Davidson was leading 6-5 with two outs in the top of the eighth inning. The Aggies hit a high pop-up behind the pitcher’s mound that should have allowed Davidson to escape the threat, putting the Wildcats just three outs from victory.
But then disaster struck.
“The fans at Texas A&M may be the loudest in college baseball,” Robertson said of the crowd of more than 6,000 who started screaming as soon as the pop-up was hit.
Amid the noise, Acosta, playing second base, yelled for the ball “as loud as I could.” First baseman Brian Fortier also yelled for Acosta to make the play. But third baseman Eric Jones called for the ball, too, believing it was his play to make.
Acosta caught the ball but was hit in the head — accidentally — by Jones’ elbow.
“I opened my glove to see if I had the ball,” said Acosta, who has seen the video, “and it fell out.”
Two runs scored on that play. In all, seven runs scored in that decisive inning as Davidson’s season ended with a 12-6 loss.
Even so, Davidson (36-25) set a school-record for wins, and Acosta finished with a .315 batting average, third best on the team.
Acosta has a lot of memories from the 2017 season. But that last game isn’t one of them.
“I got concussed,” Acosta said of his collision with Jones. “I don’t remember that whole game.”
Acosta, who has still not been cleared to resume workouts following his first-career concussion, plans to return to Davidson for his senior season.
He’s due to earn his bachelor’s degree by May 2018, majoring in economics.
The Miami native is working as an investment-banking intern this summer at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Charlotte, and the money earned will go toward paying off school loans. Davidson costs $63,000 annually, and the Wildcats baseball program has just three scholarships to divvy up among 35 players.
American Heritage coach Bruce Aven said he’s thrilled for Acosta, who had no offers from FIU, Miami or any other local Division I program coming out of high school.
“I like everything about him — good player and an even better person,” said Aven, who coached Acosta during his senior year. “It shows that if you keep playing, good things can happen. And it doesn’t have to be at Miami or Florida.”