Young named NL Comeback Player
First baseman takes advantage of second chance by Nats
WASHINGTON -- Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young is living proof of what a person can do if given a second chance. On Tuesday, Young was rewarded for taking advantage of his second chance by being named the 2007 National League Comeback Player of the Year.
The club beat reporters at MLB.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball, selected the winners for the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Devil Rays first baseman Carlos Pena was the American League winner.
Young said he was humbled after learning he won the award. He credited everyone from the Nationals to his family and fans for his success.
"This puts the stamp on everything that I've been through and what I accomplished this year from an individual standpoint," Young said. "I had people believe in me from the top to the bottom. I had fun again. Baseball became fun."
Young, 33, was one of the most important players on the Nationals this past season, hitting .320 with 13 home runs and 74 RBIs in 136 games. Young finished eighth in the NL in batting average.
Young also was the No. 1 reason the Nationals' clubhouse went from being one of the worst in team history to one of the best in the game. He is the leader and is always trying to give a young player a helping hand.
It was Young who took left-hander John Lannan and outfielder Justin Maxwell under his wing when they first came to the big leagues. Young was known to playfully tease left-hander Matt Chico on a regular basis.
"It seemed like it was almost instant," Young said of his leadership role. "I addressed the team before our last game and I just told those guys, 'Thank you for letting me be me and accepting me.' They made me comfortable and I was able to give back."
Young has come a long way. He thought his career was over after the 2006 season. He was released by the Tigers, was put on probation for domestic violence as well as being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. His plan was to drive his camper across the country and watch his siblings, including Devil Rays outfielder Delmon Young, play sports. But Delmon and his father, Larry, told Dmitri he had too much left in the tank to quit.
The Nationals were the only team interested in Young. He had a history with general manager Jim Bowden, as the two worked together when both were with the Reds from 1998-2001.
Bowden wasn't convinced that Larry Broadway and Travis Lee would provide the consistency with the bat, so he invited Young to Spring Training. The Nationals told Young there was a no-tolerance policy if he had problems off the field again. They would release him the moment he got himself in trouble.
"He had to understand there was zero tolerance. He couldn't make a mistake off the field and he didn't make a mistake on or off the field," Bowden said.
Now, Young is part of the Nationals' future after signing a two-year extension in July.
"I'm really proud of Dmitri because of what he overcame from a personal perspective -- from his personal issues as well as his diabetes," Bowden said. "And to come back from all of that to be in the top 10 in hitting and to win the Comeback Player of the Year, tells you what his character is made of. He is certainly an inspiration for a lot of people in life who made mistakes."
Young said he never would have made it through the season without the young players at the accelerated camp and hitting coach Lenny Harris. It was Harris who told Young to stop going for home runs and start going for base hits.
"Right when I questioned myself, Chris Marrero, Mike Daniel or somebody would come up to me and had a baseball-related question and it was fun answering the questions," Young said. "I started getting that love back for the game. There were days I didn't want to get up but those kids were depending on me.
"Lenny was that constant thorn on the side, and I mean that in a good way. He was always saying, 'Come on Big D, let's do this. Do your exercises.' We would talk about hitting and being in the right frame of mind. That continued when he became the hitting coach. I just felt comfortable when Lenny was here with me. Lenny has this ability to make somebody's day brighter."
During the offseason, Young is planning to monitor the diabetes much better than he did during the season. The baseball schedule didn't allow him to follow a routine the way he wanted. Young never missed a game this season because of diabetes.
The team gave him a cookbook for diabetics to follow. Young also has hired a chef to make the food properly.
"The organization gave me some good doctors and gave me all the things I need pertaining to the diabetes," Young said. "This offseason I will be on a schedule, and I will know how to fluctuate between night games and the day games."
Next season, Young may play a new position. He talked about playing the outfield once first baseman Nick Johnson returns from his leg injury.
"That's a great problem for Jim to have -- so many different guys who could do so many different things." Young said. "I can play some outfield. I could play a little first, but we have to make sure that Nick is healthy first and foremost and then we can go from there."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.