Eight major league baseball scouts buzzed in the shade behind the backstop of Princeton's Clarke Field, where the Tigers were playing Penn on April 24. At the top of each inning the scouts, who worked for teams ranging from the Florida Marlins to the Seattle Mariners, would stop talking, amble up to the fence and aim their radar guns in the direction of the mound, whence Chris Young, a 6'11", 255-pound Princeton sophomore, was mowing down the Quakers. During the bottom half of the inning they bent their heads together to compare notes: good size, hits the corners, tops out around 90 mph, full command of fastball, changeup, slider. "He throws strikes, moves the ball well, and with his build, velocity will come," said Mariners scout Tom McNamara of the righthanded Young, whose 1.05 earned run average through Sunday, when Princeton clinched a spot in the NCAA playoffs, was the lowest among Division I pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. "But draft order and signing bonuses aside, is this kid willing to give up two more years at this school to concentrate on baseball?"
Asking himself that same question was another spectator: Bill Carmody, coach of the Tigers' basketball team, of which Young is the co-captain. Carmody's attention was divided between the scouts, who were there to decide where they might pick Young (who will become a baseball-draft-eligible 21 years old later this month) in June, and his starting center, who was pitching aggravatingly well. "Chris might have some big decisions to make," said Carmody. "In basketball, too, he has all of the tools—a great feel for the game, a long-range shot, the ability to drive to the basket. There is no question he has a future in the NBA." Ryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting, believes that Young is a pro prospect. "There aren't too many big guys who can pass the ball and make the three-pointer," he says. "He definitely needs a couple more years of college basketball, but he has tremendous potential."
In this era of sports specialization, in which talented eight-year-olds are encouraged to streamline their athletic portfolios, Young's dilemma is rare. A two-sport All-Stater at Dallas's Highland Park High, Young had the option of playing basketball or baseball on an athletic scholarship at Oklahoma, Purdue, Texas or Vanderbilt. Instead he chose Princeton, where, for at least another few years, he would not have to decide between his two loves. Playing for an Ivy League school meant sacrificing scholarship dollars and paying the entire $35,000-a-year tab at Princeton, but Chris's parents, Charles, a real estate executive who was an offensive tackle at Texas Christian, and Lillie, a banking executive and former high school cheerleader who attended Ohio Wesleyan, supported the decision. "At a northern school, baseball season doesn't overlap so much with basketball, and there's nothing wrong with having a Princeton degree under your belt," says Chris. "Plus, there seemed to be a lot of cooperation between [baseball coach Scott] Bradley and Coach Carmody."
Bradley, who had familiarized himself with oversized pitchers when he caught Randy Johnson for three seasons during his nine-year career in the majors, discovered Young after Young's junior year in high school. Not long thereafter, Bradley began reading Internet reports about Young's scoring 20 points or more a game for the Highland Park basketball team. As soon as Young let on that he was interested in playing both sports in college, Bradley sprinted in the direction of the basketball office, where he ran into assistant coach John Thompson III. "What are you looking for in the 1998 season?" Bradley asked.
"Size. We're getting pushed around," replied Thompson. Bradley grinned. "How's 6'11"?"
So far the joint-custody agreement has worked out. As a freshman Young became the first Ivy League male to be named rookie of the year in two sports. He exceeded Carmody's expectations by setting school freshman records of 387 points and 160 rebounds, and he won over Bradley by asking to throw to him a couple of times a week after basketball practice. "The busier I am, the easier it is to keep up with my studies," says Young, who has about a 3.0 GPA as a politics major.
Though Young acknowledges that throwing in a gym can't duplicate pitching to the cleanup hitter when the game is on the line, these off-season exercises allow him to work his arm and unwind from the daily rigors of basketball. "I look forward to the transition from one sport to the other," says Young, who at the end of the hoops season simply moves the contents of his Jadwin Gym locker down the hall to the baseball changing room. "Basketball is so intense that pitching is kind of a relief."
Which is not to say that Young doesn't relish game-time intensity: When the last seconds are ticking away on the shot clock, he says, "I want the ball in my hands." Similarly, his favorite part of pitching is being involved in every play. "When you're on the mound," says Young, his usually breezy tone taking on a dramatic air, "the team's success rests on you."
Young closed his freshman spring with a 4-1 record and a 2.38 ERA. After a sluggish start to his sophomore basketball season, he ended up leading the Tigers in scoring, with 13.8 points a game, and setting a school record for blocked shots (90). Three-and-a-half weeks after he ended the season with a double double in Princeton's first-round NIT loss to Penn State, Young loped onto Yale Field for his second start of 2000 and struck out 10 Elis in a seven-inning complete game. In the outing against Penn, another seven-inning affair, he again struck out 10, for the third time in his career. He's on track to become Princeton's No. 2 career basketball scorer, after Bill Bradley, and its most dominant pitcher ever.
Stats and stature aside, Scott Bradley and Carmody both say that Young's best asset is his temperament. "Chris never gets flustered," says Bradley. "He's a fierce competitor, but you would never know that from watching." Carmody agrees: "He is a dilettante about nothing in his life."