Young love (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday June 27, 2007 12:49PM; Updated: Wednesday June 27, 2007 12:49PM
Young walked into the so-called "accelerated development" camp in Florida, and his life flipped in an instant. The young players there immediately invigorated him. He got a handle on how to deal with his diabetes. He cleaned up the other areas of his life. He worked himself into shape (with the help of former teammate, and now Nationals coach, Lenny Harris). And then he went to the Nationals' spring training site in Viera, Fla., to give his comeback a chance.
The Nationals' first baseman, Nick Johnson, was still recovering from a broken leg he suffered last year. Travis Lee, another first baseman, retired. No one else stepped up. Young was named the team's Opening Day first baseman, batting fifth in the lineup. At the end of May he moved to cleanup. He doesn't look to be moving anywhere else any time soon.
"He's driving the ball all over the place," says former teammate Sean Casey of the Tigers. "Right-center, left-center. When he's going well, he squares everything up. I'm telling you, they're rockets. You know, we all have our issues. His kind of came to the forefront. But I think he's faced his demons and he's conquered them. I think he understands what getting a second chance means, and he's taking full advantage of it."
Before the last year or so, it would have been hard to find many people inside or outside of the game with many bad things to say about Young. He has always been a friendly, outgoing teammate, always ready with a clubhouse wisecrack, always there with a hearty laugh.
By late last season, after the team let him go, he was ripping the Tigers so badly to the press that manager Jim Leyland felt a need to defend the organization publicly. Leyland, and everyone else around the team, just wanted Young to get whatever help he needed.
"What you heard about him last year was so odd, so out of place," says Stan Kasten, the president of the Nationals. "I remember talking to Manny about this a few days ago. He said 'I don't know that guy. I don't know that guy at all.'"
Young, soft-spoken and extremely accommodating to a string of clubhouse visitors on a recent afternoon, credits his turnaround to the young players in spring training who picked his brain and got him excited about the game again. He talks about his three kids -- sons Owen, 10, and Damon, 7, and daughter, Layla, 5 -- and putting them first.
He'll recount the problems he's had in the past year or more, insisting that it's helpful both to him and to other people who might have problems of their own. He's straightforward about it all. "There's no Hollywood persona that's going on here or anything like that," Young says. "Not even close."
Says Acta: "I spent a lot of time in the minor leagues. I know when I'm being played. He's not an act. He's the nicest guy I've ever dealt with."
None of this, naturally, will help Young land a spot on the All-Star team. It's up to the selectors now. Unfortunately for Young, there are a lot of good first basemen in the NL, almost all of them with better power numbers than him. (Young has only seven homers, no thanks to Washington's cavernous RFK Stadium.) Prince Fielder of the Brewers, who leads the league in home runs with 27, is the leading vote-getter. Albert Pujols of the Cardinals is running second. The Mets' Carlos Delgado and the Dodgers' Nomar Garciaparra, both having subpar years, are even ahead of Young in the fan voting. And when it comes to potential reserves, Derrek Lee of the Cubs, Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres and reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard of the Phillies will have to be considered, and maybe even the Rockies' Todd Helton.
So an All-Star nod won't come easily for Young. As much as he's liked by his present and former teammates, getting in by a players' vote is a long shot, too, considering the competition. His best bet, it seems, will come from manager Tony La Russa and MLB officials. But they'll have only a few spots to fill. And even if Young is the best player on the Nationals -- and nobody's much disputing that -- La Russa may be forced to pick a pitcher to even out the squad. It sometimes works that way.
Still, this first half for Young seems to be a mere start, a renewed jumping-off point to a career that almost died last winter. True to his one-day-at-a-time mindset these days, Young says he isn't even thinking about all that. Right now he's just looking forward to seeing his kids running around the clubhouse, his team improving (the Nationals, before Tuesday's game in Atlanta, were 23-19 in their past 42 games) and better times ahead, all around.
"When you have kids, you don't want to be a quitter," Young says. "You want your kids to see their dad fighting. I can look forward to playing, being with my kids, being a role model that's had tough times but who has made the appropriate adjustments to right my wrongs. That's what it's all about.
"Nobody's perfect here. People have problems. It's the way that you deal with the problems that counts."
Young, to his credit, is dealing with everything just fine. He doesn't need a trip to San Francisco to validate that.