Young continues quiet impact on Twins
Outfielder turns it around after difficult beginnings with Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- Delmon Young doesn't like to talk about himself. No matter how frequently questions have been asked recently about his personal accomplishments, the answers are deflected back toward team goals, which right now include the Twins trying to wrap up an American League Central title for the second year running.
But while Young may try to avert attention from himself, there is no denying the impact of the outfielder's breakout season has had on the Twins.With Justin Morneau sidelined since July 7 due to a concussion, the Twins have needed other hitters within the lineup to produce, and Young has been a big reason that the club has survived the absence of their All-Star cleanup hitter. Young has delivered a team-leading 102 RBIs. He's batting .296 with a career-high 18 home runs and has been a force in the Twins lineup, prompting Tigers manager Jim Leyland to say recently that there might not be a better player in the Majors since last September than Young. "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't even be close to the situation that we're in right now," said Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer. "He's had a huge impact, as have a bunch of other guys, at a time where we've had to have guys step up. And he's one of them who has stepped up in a huge way." Young's impressive performance has come after what was a difficult 2009 season for him, both on and off the field. The No. 1 overall pick by Tampa Bay in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Young has dealt with some ups and downs since arriving in Minnesota two years ago in a trade that sent right-hander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Rays. At the time of the trade, Young was the runner-up for the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year Award and as a result, high expectations were placed upon him. But after a disappointing 2008 season with Minnesota, Young seemed to finally be adjusting to his new teammates and coaching staff when his life was turned upside down. Last May, Young's mother, Bonnie, lost a three-month battle with cancer and passed away at the age of 53. Young had been extremely close with his mother, and he was there, along with his three siblings, by her side at their home in Camarillo, Calif., when she passed. "It's been tough," said Young, who spent many nights on the phone with his mother as she battled the disease while he was off playing baseball. "You are never going to get over it or anything. You've just got to go day by day with it." Young got off to a rough start last season while his mom was ill, and he was sharing playing time with fellow outfielder Carlos Gomez. Young batted .266 with three homers over 192 at-bats in the first half. Still, he finished the season hitting .284 with 12 home runs and 60 RBIs in 108 games, thanks in large part to a strong finish in September. Young then spent the offseason at home in California, finally taking the time to grieve the loss of his mother. He channeled some of that energy into getting himself ready for the season, which included working on a slimmer physique as Young shed close to 25 pounds thanks to vigorous workouts. "He was probably more excited about getting into the season this year just because of the shape he was in," said Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe, a longtime friend of Young's dating back to when they played on a youth travel team together at 11 or 12 years old. "He had a lot of self-confidence because of that." Young's resolve to prove himself, even though it appeared his starting job was secure with the trade of Gomez to the Brewers in November, impressed the Twins coaching staff in Spring Training. Young solidified his job in left field as his bat started to heat up in May and he carried that success throughout the summer months. Finally having an everyday role with the club is something that Young said helped him to have this type of season. "Last year, there would be times when I wouldn't play for a week and then if I didn't get a couple hits, I wasn't going to be back in there," Young said. "For the first time since my rookie year, I knew I was going to play every day. I got an opportunity, I knew what I was capable of doing and I tried to make the best of it." His teammates have noticed a change in Young this season, but it's not just the way he's been swinging the bat on the field. There is a smile on his face that had been lacking last season, when he was going through such a difficult time in his life. "I think you can see he's a little more confident and he's having a little more fun," said center fielder Denard Span. "After watching him go through what he did last year and now seeing him do what he's doing this year, you can definitely tell he's having a good time. "I think this whole team has substituted as part of his family. You can always tell he's ragging on us and making fun of everybody. But I know he loves everybody on this team, and I think everybody loves him as well." Family has always been very important to the outfielder. His father, Larry, played a significant role in helping both of his sons -- Dmitri and Delmon -- learn the game and become big league players. It's a close bond between father and sons that's only seemed to grow stronger with the loss of Bonnie. The family has made a number of trips to Minnesota this year and they have provided opportunities for Delmon's nephews to hang out inside the Twins clubhouse and act as bat boys for some of the games. "I'm just doing what my brother did with me," said Delmon, who is 12 years younger than Dmitri, a two-time All-Star who played for four teams from 1996-2008. "They want to be around the game, so I'm going to bring them around and give them all the access I possibly can. It's good to do that. They are comfortable around the game and it keeps them interested in the game." Baseball has always been an important part of Young's life, but this season, his love of the game has seemed to return even stronger and perhaps it's because there is a sense that his mom is always with the outfielder as he plays. But the fun he's having also has a lot to do with the success of his team -- even if he doesn't want to talk much about the impact he's had on that success. "I know he doesn't care about individual statistics," said Plouffe. "He likes this team and he likes the bond that we all share together. So to be one of the guys that everyone is counting on in the middle of the race, I think that really means something to him."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.