Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chatting With Dmitri Young

Troubled, unhealthy and left on the sidelines--Dmitri Young was searching for salvation in February, 2007. This Former All-Star was no longer a Major League Player and only one team even considered his services. Our Washington Nationals came calling with a non-guaranteed minor league deal. An offer--Dmitri Young could not refuse. What a deal this minor transaction became. Not only did Our Number 21 turn his life around--but he became an All-Star--eventually being named the 2007 National League Comeback Player Of The Year. Now, he's back--with a two year guaranteed contract.

On Thursday Afternoon--I caught with Dmitri as he walked back to The Clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium. He was kind enough to give me 10 Minutes of his time.

How do you feel about the talent on this team? (SBF)

“We made some key acquisitions this off season—in getting Lastings Milledge. Unfortunately, we lost (Ryan) Church & (Brian) Schneider. We have some great, GREAT young talent. We picked up Paul LoDuca, we’ve got Johnny Estrada as well. We’ve got Elijah Dukes who is filled with potential—its just a matter of him getting it straight. We picked up some pitching. We have a healthy Shawn Hill and John Patterson—who have a lot of confidence. We have healthy competition out there, a deep bench. We are not expecting to compete—we are expecting to win.”

And, yet you can compete with Nick Johnson and still support each other? (SBF)

“Definitely, in fact, there is some love there. We have known each other for a long time. Its good to see him healthy—first and foremost. He was one of the keys to this organization before I came over here. But, when we go out there to compete—its healthy for both of us. We actually get a kick out of all this. There is competition at work all the time, but go out for a beer afterwards.”

So, this is a friendly competition in every way? (SBF)

“Yes, definitely—when you are friends.”

But how could this situation end in a good way—for both of you in Washington? (SBF)

“Whatever decision Jim (Bowden) and Manny (Acta) make will be the decision that sticks.”

Is this a position, first base, where both of you could possibly play the entire season here—together? (SBF)

“Yeah, we could, but we both want 500 At Bats—and rightfully so. We will cross that bridge when it comes. Even talking about now—will not make a difference. We are just going out here and playing. Nick is just happy to be healthy and out on the field again. And for me having a place to play is awesome—so we are definitely not worried about anything of that nature—right now."

How nice has it been for you to basically change your life around over the past year or so? It must be very special for you? (SBF)

“You respond to life. You make mistakes and hit bumps in the road. There is one of two ways to handle it. A) Take it like a man and make the necessary steps or B) fall into a hole and disappoint everyone around you—more so than yourself. If you continue to fail, you disappoint your kids, your family members and friends that believe in you. But, if you sit there and fight—you will be revered more as a man for sticking it out—when the chips are all down and you have no one believing in you.”

What is your role as a mentor for Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge—among others? (SBF)

“You know what—its just being there for them—showing them how to be a Big League Ball Player—professional on and off the field. When they do something that may not be kosher—you just have to pull them aside and let them know that in the Big Leagues we do things a certain way. That’s the only way they learn. They didn’t have that same support where they come from. So obviously, when they do something wrong—and get exploited—they are in a situation where you have a veteran, kind of a mentor--helping them. They learn from that and when they become veterans—they will be able to return that favor to a teammate.”

So—that’s how you ARE helping Elijah Dukes? (SBF)

“He’s a young man right now and he made mistakes. But, it’s not the end of the world.”

Life always goes on--you can always make up for everything—if you are willing. (SBF)

“Unquestionably. Yes—you can always do that. He has his chance as well. He is in a position to right his wrongs.”

And, he has some good power at the plate—too. (SBF)

“Yes, Yes he does.” (laughing)

Changing subjects--when you look around at this practice facility—it is very fan friendly. Many players are always signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. How important is that? (SBF)

“This interaction is very important. Its something that I learned a long time ago, but didn’t take heed to it until last year. I realized the importance of fans. You know, when you have kids looking up to you—take a time out—and sign an autograph for them—it goes a long way. That small moment builds confidence for them when they see a Big League Ballplayer being nice. They look at us differently.”

How different will Nationals Park be—as compared to RFK Stadium? (SBF)

“It means there will be baseball in Washington for a long, long time. There is no more hoping around from Puerto Rico to Montreal. There is a foundation now in DC and the surrounding areas.”

How special is it to play in DC? (SBF)

“We are fortunate to play in The Nation’s Capital. A lot of people like to emphasize New York as the key city—but nothing is better than The Nation’s Capital.”

What have you done to improve on your terrific 2007 Season? You look a little trimmer. (SBF)

“That’s taking care of the diabetes. I have to deal with that every single day. Dealing with that makes everything else in my life—much easier.”

Final question--can you repeat your performance from last year? (SBF)

“I plan on an encore performance.”

And, a repeat performance is what Dmitri Young may well need. No one could have dreamed the scenario now playing out at first base for Our Washington Nationals before Our Number 21 joined the club. Now, the Nick Johnson/Dmitri Young battle for the first base job--is one of the most intriguing stories of camp. Each wants to play--and each wants to start. Nothing wrong with that--but how this plays out has a huge impact on the future of Our Team.

1 comment:

SenatorNat said...

It occurred to me that perhaps one way to entice Michael Wilbon at the Post to spread a little bit of interest around and focus on the Nats this Spring might be to have D.Young offer some tips on living with diabetes, since Wilbon now has it, resulting from his recent heart attack. (That been with No. 24 had better be an Amstel Light, for example, for both of their sakes...)

Trust in a positive attitude - and gratitude. All Good.