Nationals' comeback kid deserves an All-Star nod
Posted: Wednesday June 27, 2007 12:49PM; Updated: Wednesday June 27, 2007 12:49PM
If all it takes to get selected to the All-Star Game is an eye-popping first half, a place among the league leaders and a few well-considered votes here and there, then Dmitri Young probably ought to be booking his tickets to San Francisco right now.
The process, though, is a lot trickier than that. The All-Star Game, as we all know by now, is first and foremost a glorified popularity contest. After the fans and players are done picking their faves, managers and Major League Baseball officials do their best to fill out the rosters and deal with political and obligatory matters (every team has to have a representative, of course). There are a lot of candidates, and only 32 spots per team, so it can get complicated.
But complicated is something that Young, the Nationals' sturdy first baseman, knows and accepts. In the past year or so, "complicated" hardly begins to explain what's been going on in Young's life. So he's content to wait and see what happens this week before he makes any plans for early July.
"It would be cool, to be able to represent the organization that gave me the opportunity to come back. They took a chance on me. Obviously, I guess, it'd make a pretty good story," Young says, a big smile crossing his bearded face. "And for me, to work on restoring my name ... it would be gratifying on an individual standpoint, too. But if it doesn't happen, I get to go to an amusement park with my kids. And I kind of like the amusement parks."
First, we probably ought to get this out of the way: Young's numbers in the first half of the season are more than worthy of a spot in the All-Star Game. Through Monday he was hitting .338, third in the National League and second among NL first baseman. He has the fourth-best on-base percentage among the league's first basemen. And that barely starts to tell how good he's been, especially lately.
In June he's hitting .385, better than anyone, at any position, in the league. Since May 17 he's hitting .431, better than anyone at any position in either league. "I keep looking at the numbers that he's putting up. It's ridiculous," says his manager, Manny Acta. "Nobody's more deserving than him."
The fact that Young, 33, is even being mentioned as a possible All-Star is amazing in its own right. That he's playing baseball at all, in fact, is incredible. Last year his life disintegrated in a perfectly awful storm of events that included a messy divorce, a domestic abuse charge, a two-month rehab stint to deal with alcoholism, his continuing struggles with his weight and a new health problem, diabetes. All of it seemingly crashed down on Young at once, leading to a nasty separation from his longtime team, the Tigers.
By last October, Young was out of baseball, stuck in Detroit by a judge's order and doing all he could to try to avoid watching the Tigers in the World Series. Just after Thanksgiving, he was in the hospital struggling with a blood-sugar level through the roof. As winter came, he was convinced that his life in baseball was over.
"I had my agent try to call some people," Young says. "It was 'No. No. Hell no.'"
Young was home in South Florida last February, preparing to fly to California, grab a recreational vehicle and see the country when Jim Bowden, the general manager of the Nationals, called. Bowden was GM of the Reds when Young played there, from 1998 to 2001.
The offer was simple: Come to a developmental camp, stick around with the Nationals' minor leaguers, get into shape, maybe get an invite to spring training and we'll take it from there. Nothing more. Nothing less.
It wasn't exactly a "Whooopee!" moment for Young. In fact, Young had to think hard about the offer. He talked it over with his father and his younger brother, Devil Rays rookie outfielder Delmon Young.
"At first, it was like 'You know what? I don't know if I feel like having to prove myself over again,'" Young says. "My brother was like 'Shoot, show them that you still got it. It's not that tough. It's just a camp. It ain't like it's the season.' And I went, 'Geez, I'm taking advice from a 21-year-old.'"
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