Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Our Dmitri Young
"Wow!! No Way!!" I vividly recall saying to Sohna. Dmitri Young was walking onto Field 5 in Viera, Florida with all the youngsters invited early to Spring Camp for Our Washington Nationals. Dmitri was participating in "Accelerated Spring Training" for The Future Stars of Our Washington Nationals. Except for Tony Batista--there was not one other Former Major League Player on the field that day looking to makes The Big Leagues. The Majority of these players were the High Draft Picks and International Players Signed or Traded for over the past three seasons. None of whom, had ANY EXPECTATIONS to play for The Parent Club in 2007.
As Dmitri went right past me, he didn't look good--out of shape and overweight. Really, you couldn't have expected much more. Diabetes, Drugs, Alcohol, A Nasty Divorce in The Process; and A Court Charge, all well outweighed Dmitri Young's rather large girth that afternoon.
Yet, Young had been given a chance. A HUGE OPPORTUNITY to get his Major League Career Back. Our Future Number 21 was at pretty much rock bottom. Walking onto the baseball diamond that day in late February--he didn't even know if Baseball was what HE WANTED IN HIS OWN LIFE. That's what happens when you lose your way--lose your passion about life.
Soon, after this very first day of "Accelerated Spring Training" began--Dmitri Young left the field--heading back to the nearby Clubhouse. Someone said: "Dmitri doesn't feel well." It was 90 Degrees--blazing mid-afternoon Florida Sun. You had to wonder whether Young would come back to the field at all. No one would have been surprised--if Dmitri Young just walked away--walked away for good.
Yet, he persevered. Playing with 18 & 19 Year Olds--he somehow regained his spark in March, 2007--His Love of The Great Game. Yes, Dmitri Young wanted to be a BALLPLAYER AGAIN. To Our General Manager Jim Bowden's great credit--he realized Dmitri Young had EVERYTHING TO LOSE. Our Washington Nationals--EVERYTHING TO GAIN.
And, when Nick Johnson did not return from his broken femur--The Starting First Base Job for Washington was up for grabs. A Spot--no one in Major League Camp Grasped. Some tried. But, Travis Lee retired. Larry Broadway (the heir apparent) was sent down--eventually--sent off The 40 Man Roster. Surprisingly, The Door--once so nearly closed and sealed shut for Dmitri Young--had now swung open.
Yes, on the precipice of not only being out of baseball, but totally OUT OF LIFE--Our New Number 21 was named The Starting First Baseman for The 2007 Version of Our Washington Nationals. And, he's NEVER LOOKED BACK.
On Opening Day, 2007--The African Queen and I personally wished him well at The Main Gate of RFK Stadium as he handed out Red Curly "W" Caps to each fan entering The Old Ballyard. As Young stood there, his children by his side--he was kind enough to take a picture with Sohna. When we finished the photo--I said to him: "I only wish you the best for a nice comeback season." Young grabbed my arm, sincerely stating: "That's very kind of you." Shaking his hand now, I replied; "I mean it." The look on his face knowingly appreciative. We wanted him to know he was not only welcome. But also, to just Play Ball.
But No--Our Number 21 did not get off to a rousing start. In fact, he struggled. Dmitri Young did knock the game winning blow off (yes, you guessed correct) My Boy!! Jorge Julio, to record Our Washington Nationals First Win of 2007. An improbable comeback that saw Our Team celebrating on the Field--and Our Fans Celebrating in the Stands--as if We had Just Won The World Series!!! Besides, that Victory, was Our Manager Manny Acta's Very FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE WIN!! A Champagne Day in the first week of the season. Never will I forget Manny Acta jumping into Dmitri Young's Beefy Arms in Celebration. That folks--was THE BEGINNING of the camaraderie Our Team developed in 2007.
Soon after,Young would hurt his heel--and he never really got untracked--until he pinch hit at 1:30AM on the night of May 12th/morning of the 13th against The Florida Marlins. With 76 Folks Total in attendance--Our Number 21 sustained The GREATEST of 2007 Comebacks in the bottom of the 9th. Another stunningly improbable victory that witnessed Ryan Zimmerman blasting out a Game Winning Grand Slam off--you know who--My Boy!! Jorge Julio--at 1:42 AM.
From that point on--Dmitri Young ROCKED. He caught fire and never let up. Included in what became a Stellar Year--Dmitri would Power Out that FABULOUS GRAND SLAM on July 4th--against The Cubs Rich Hill. A Rockets Red Glare Shot that had The Old Ballyard on East Capitol Street ROARING. Perhaps the final time RFK Stadium would EVER reach such a Crescendo for a Major League Baseball Game. Bedlam--the only way to describe that moment. And to think--The Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Piniella had intentionally walked "Z" to get to Young. A Huge Mistake that made Dmitri's Home Run that much more special.
His Homer The Celebration of an Honor Bestowed days previously--when Young was named to represent Our Washington Nationals in San Francisco--as Our 2007 All Star Game Participant. An accolade given for a job well done. And, a willingness to fight back from the depths of despair. Through it all, it appears that Dmitri Young has turned his life around. So much so--he was richly rewarded a short time after The All Star Game with a new Two Year, $10 Million Contract to remain in Washington. A Signing that shocked many--as it came just days before the July 31st Trading Deadline. Many expecting Our Washington Nationals to move Young for prospects.
Whether or not you agreed with that contract extension--did not matter--as the result, was redeeming. Once left for lost--Dmitri Young had earned back Respect--And TRUST. Yes, he was no longer a lost soul. Dmitri Young had his life back--both on and off the field of play. To a person involved with Our Washington Nationals--no one was viewing Our Number 21 from anything less than The Highest Pedestal.
Dmitri Young would finish The 2007 Championship Campaign as the 10th Best Hitter for Average in his league. And, on that Final Day EVER of Major League Baseball at RFK STADIUM--The African Queen and I sought out Dmitri Young. We wanted our journey with him to go FULL CIRCLE. We were there--when he began his comeback on Field 5 in Viera. We were there--when he continued his journey at The Major League Level on April 2nd. And, we were there--to thank him again on September 23rd--For EVERYTHING. As we shook hands--"Thank you for your effort, your courage--your willingness to try," I said to Young. Dmitri would hold my hand for that split second longer--look straight into my eyes saying: "Thank you. That means everything to me."
And, Sohna and I meant EVERYTHING--we said to him.
Our Dmitri Young was, and is, a Great Story in 2007. Maybe, The Finest in Some Time in American Sport.
And, today--Dmitri Young was RICHLY rewarded--again--with an honor that goes far beyond the money. Dmitri Young was Named The National League Comeback Player of The Year. No one was more deserving. No one had EARNED IT MORE.
Thank You--Dmitri Young for YOUR FUN SEASON!! Your Enthusiasm was Contagious!! And, APPRECIATED--from not only The African Queen and Myself--but ALL OF US in Section 320. You were JUST GREAT FUN!! Good, Lively Entertainment that THIS GREAT GAME NEEDS MORE OF!!
And, Thank You--For Making Your Life Whole Again.
See you in 2008!!