Alex Rodriguez, one of the best hitters of his generation, got beat in a hitting contest by a 22-month-old. The 22-month-old in question, Asher Willig, hit 9 balls in 30 seconds to top A-Rod’s 8, notching the W. The not-even 2-year-old then took the win in stride, high-fiving his hyped-up opponent with a smile, as host Jimmy Fallon screamed in his trademark way.
How does a child, not even 2 years old, go from playing in the backyard to batting against one of the famous baseball players ever on the most-watched late night talk show? According to his parents, Leah and Cory Willig, it’s all about the talent. But the internet helped. “It was his bat speed that showed us how good he is,” says Cory, who played in the minor leagues for 4 years and is now a professional batting instructor in Atlanta. “I’ve been around baseball my whole life, and I can tell when something is right. The first time I saw him swing, I was like ‘Holy crap, that swing is so good.’”
That bat speed can be seen in the first video of Asher’s swing that the Willigs posted on Instagram. Clad in just his underoos, Asher shows off his swing with a plastic red bat, while his dad exclaims in surprised excitement. While that video was impressive enough, it was one taken nine months later – after Asher had moved up to soft toss pitches – that went viral: “The video of him hitting the golf-sized Wiffle ball went extremely viral,” says Leah. “That’s when we got a call from the shows; Fallon called, Ellen called. We went on the Tonight Show, and that’s where we met A-Rod.”
Here, Cory chimes in, sounding super excited about the experience. “Jimmy and A-Rod were really good with him! I mean they’re both dads, so they were in dad mode,” Cory chimes in.“ The coolest thing was hearing A-Rod tell my son, ‘Man he’s got a good looking swing!’”
Of course, while Asher’s natural talent came into play, the Willigs put a process in place to help him develop from an early age. Unsurprisingly, that started with the batting tee, as it does for most kids. That’s when they realized how good his young son’s swing was; Asher was only 13 months old when he stepped up to the tee. After that, he started hitting soft toss in November of 2017, when he was just 20 months old. Asher is now almost 2 years old, which has Cory thinking of bigger goals for his son: “I’m starting to introduce him to overhand throwing. It’s good, it’s just early steps, like anything else,” he says. “As long as he keeps wanting to play, we’re just going to keep progressing.”
That progression has taken an interesting turn recently: Asher can pitch almost as well as he can hit. In an Instagram video posted on Cory’s personal page — which doubles as Asher’s highlight reel — Asher throws a pitch at a tee, hitting the ball on top of it. “I was shocked,” Cory says with a laugh. “I do that with the older kids I train. That’s tough.”
It probably helps Asher’s development that he’s a fan of baseball, although Leah says that it’s not due to any particular team fandom: “Cory’s a Braves fan, while I’m a Royals fan because I’m from Kansas. Asher has shirts of both of those.” Pressed about which he likes more, Leah concedes that it might be the hometown Braves, but it’s the sport that really calls to him. And so, despite the lack of a fervent fandom for one specific team, Asher can be found watching and imitating pro hitters on TV. “He just enjoys it,” chimes in Cory. “It doesn’t matter what team is playing.”
It’s not just baseball that’s caught young Asher’s eye either; soccer has caught his eye, thanks to the local rise of one of the MLS’ hottest teams. The Atlanta United finished up their first season with a heartbreaking loss to the Columbus Crew in the playoffs, but there’s nothing but buzz for the team. That passion has reached the Willig household, as Asher became a big fan of the team last year. “He’ll say ‘go A.’ He says that because my wife Leah played soccer in college, and we’re big soccer fans,” says Cory. “He recognizes soccer more than anything else.”
As for the future, the Willigs aren’t going to put pressure on Asher to keep going on his baseball trajectory. It will be whatever he wants to do. While his dad has nothing but good things to say about the experience of playing in the minors, Asher will be free to pursue whatever his 2-year-old heart wants to. If that’s baseball, great, but if it’s not, the Willigs are just enjoying the process of raising such a precocious hitter.
“We’re gonna give him every opportunity he wants,” says Cory. “I’m lucky to be in the situation I’m in, because I work at a baseball academy, he’s gonna have resources there.” Whether or not Asher follows in his dad’s footsteps is irrelevant right now; he’s doing pretty well for himself, what with beating MLB legends like A-Rod on the biggest talk show in the country.