Second chance (cont.)
Posted: Monday August 20, 2007 10:24AM; Updated: Monday August 20, 2007 10:24AM
Batting practice is over and Young teeters into the clubhouse, drenched in sweat, and strips down to his compression shorts. "It is f------ hot!" he says, gasping for breath. To his right, Nationals second baseman Felipe Lopez looks on.
"Hey!" yells Lopez. "Here's an All-Star and he's hot and doesn't have water. C'mon guys."
Lopez, who is joking but not really joking, heads into the training room and comes back with a bottle of water for Young. "Now that is how you treat an All-Star!" says Lopez, drawing a laugh from Young.
And that's the thing about Young: He is, by all indications, a very likeable guy. He's well-spoken, fun-loving and inclusive. "Doesn't matter who you are," says Fick. "If you're a clubhouse kid or a rookie, no matter what color you are, he's genuinely awesome. He just takes time out for everybody."
Acta speaks of Young's influence on the clubhouse, of how Young takes time to work with the young hitters, of how he could be a good coach someday. Young says it's simply his nature. "I knew a lot of guys by playing against them, and once I came in here, it kind of changed the whole mood of the locker room in a positive manner," he says. "I'm the kind of guy that pats everybody on the back, says 'Hey, good job! Thatta way!' As a young player, you need that positive reinforcement."
His clubhouse manner, his contribution to the team -- Young makes it easy to forgive him. After all, we want to believe in people; it's part of being human. That's why Fick repeatedly talks about what "happened" to Young, saying things like "S--- happens to people and it's what you do after that s--- happens that counts." This may be true, but somebody still has to clean up the mess in the first place.
The elements of Young's story also make it more palatable. He had undiagnosed diabetes, a disease that touches many and is often associated with children. He was an alcoholic in need of counseling, and don't we all know an alcoholic who has either gone to counseling or perhaps should, if only he or she could muster the courage?
He has faced his demons. He sticks a needle in his leg each morning to deliver his insulin. He says he has stopped drinking. And when the Nationals faced the Tigers for the first time in interleague play, he walked to the plate and tipped his hat to Jim Leyland, and the old Tigers skipper tipped his in return. Life, Young believes, is back on track. "Things happen for a reason," he says. "I resurrected myself, and that's all that matters."
But is it? What are the grounds for forgiveness in sports, and why are we so quick to grant redemption? Perhaps we fall for the comeback story because we are conditioned to, or perhaps it's because sports are supposed to be an escape from the dark corners of life, and the sooner we can shine the light on something brighter, something happier, the better.
Jason Giambi was derided as a steroid user, then he regained his power stroke and with it the affection of Yankees fans. Dogfighting allegations have made Michael Vick a pariah, but if he gets past the horrible charges against him, changes teams, professes his regret and then puts up a 3,000-yard passing season, might all be forgiven? In sports, redemption is only a uniform change and a contract year away. That doesn't mean the past can be erased; Dmitri Young still let down his teammates and his family, still assaulted a young girl. It appears Young has changed, but who is he now? Really, only he knows.
The fans in Washington don't seem to care, though. To those who cheer his RBI singles and ask for his autograph, it doesn't matter who Young really is, so long as he is who they want him to be. In this case, that's a big first baseman who cracks line drive after line drive into the gap and then smiles real big. And as long as he keeps hitting, as long as he keeps that average up and his strikeouts down, all will remain forgiven.
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