One thing DeRosa
couldn't replicate was Young's adjustment in two-strike counts. When he's down
to his last strike, Young, instead of tapping his toe, plants his left foot out
front so he no longer strides into the pitch and relies more on his hands to
make contact. "You don't see many guys attempting to change their swings
mid-count," says DeRosa. "He's got an uncanny knack for it." The
results have been impressive. On 1-and-2 counts last season, Young hit .303--or
better than the overall averages of all but 20 major leaguers. Says Jaramillo,
"Last year when he got two strikes, we'd say, 'Man, the pitcher is in
For the year Young
hit .331 and finished 11th in the league's MVP voting. (He was eighth in 2004,
when he hit .313 with 22 homers.) He also ranked fourth among AL shortstops in
fielding percentage, having returned to his favorite position after Rodriguez
was dealt to the New York Yankees before the 2004 season.
Young is off to a
another hot start this year, batting .352, tied for the league lead in doubles
(11) and tied for second in hits (38) through Sunday. Despite his
accomplishments, however, his national profile remains low. This may be in part
because Young plays on a mediocre team in Texas--"in New York, he'd be
bigger than Derek Jeter," says Teixeira (chart)--and in part because he
doesn't draw attention to himself. The next headline he makes for complaining
in the clubhouse, throwing a tantrum on the field or running afoul of the law
will be his first. In fact, if there's a knock on Young, Rangers insiders say,
it's that he is not a vocal, take-charge type of leader.
laud the example set by Young, who never skips BP or fails to take infield
grounders. He always talks to the press after games. He ritualistically pats
players on the head and puts away their batting helmets after they score.
DeRosa compares him with Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, saying both have a
"presence," while Showalter likens Young to Don Mattingly. "I used
to ask Donnie, Why do you do all this work and prep?" says Showalter, who
played with and later managed the former Yankees captain. "He said, 'In the
ninth inning there's a quiet confidence I get because I know I've outworked the
pitcher; I'm more prepared for this situation than he is.' Mike's the same
Most nights on the
road, Young and DeRosa will order a couple of beers and talk about the game.
When they're done with the beers, Young is finished with the game too.
"Whether he went 0 for 4 or 4 for 4, the next day it's gone [from his
mind]," says DeRosa. "A lot of people have trouble doing that."
His batting line
is not the only thing Young forgets. "Half the time, if I don't put money
in his wallet, I think he'd leave with it empty," says Cristina, who
majored in economics and East Asian studies at Columbia. "And I can't tell
you how many times he's left the house with my phone by mistake."
even-keeled nature and dry sense of humor are what drew the equally laid-back
Wells to him in Toronto. The two met as minor leaguers, roomed together while
in the Florida Instructional League and have remained tight. They were
groomsmen in each other's weddings, and Wells was one of the first well-wishers
to call after Young's first son, Mateo, was born last June. (Young chose the
name because "my wife is 100 percent Mexican and I'm half Mexican, so we
wanted a name that was 75 percent Mexican.")
Part of Young's
appeal is his humility. This is a guy who spent part of his time at the World
Baseball Classic this spring getting autographs from other players. (He was
especially psyched to meet Jones and the Chicago Cubs' Derrek Lee.) His house,
a 15-minute drive from Ameriquest Field, features a wall of baseball
memorabilia. While Young "won't put his own stuff up," says Cristina,
there are bats and jerseys from such players as Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr.
and Don Mattingly.
Consider it part
of the grinder mentality. If you start believing you're as good as other people
say you are, you lose your edge. The next thing you know, you're talking about
yourself in the third person, taking days off and trying to go Dave Kingman in
batting practice. Don't expect Young to fall into that trap. "I'm a firm
believer that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse," he says.
"I can get better on the bases, I can tap into more power, I can improve as
a shortstop...." And on and on Young goes, swiveling in his chair in an
empty locker room, ticking off goals, certain that one day--if he just puts in
enough hard work--he'll be a success.