With the 2008 season in the rear-view mirror and the 2009 campaign a little too far off to start prognosticating about, it’s time for me to kick off a new GotMiLB feature that will hopefully give readers a chance to get to know some of the players I have the pleasure of dealing with as more than simply a set of stats, numbers and ranked commodities.
I’ve always been a big proponent of the little guy, both figuratively and literally.
For one thing, I’ve always loved the underdog, and who is a bigger underdog than the non-drafted free agent? They’re the guys with no bonus in the bank. With no one who put their money where their mouth is when it comes to roster spots being up for grabs. Who sat through 50 rounds of the draft without hearing their names being called and still pursued their dreams.
And being rather petite at 5-foot-2, looking up at my daughter who towers over me at 5-foot-3, I have also always been a fan of the … well, shall we say, vertically challenged player. Generally you never really know exactly what the smaller players’ true heights are since “official stats” can be … unofficial.
So it’s no surprise that I have been intrigued by Atlanta Braves outfielder Matt Young since he began his pro career with a huge splash in 2005, hitting .312 at Class A Rome in his pro debut a year after signing as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of New Mexico (everyone’s a lobo, woof woof woof).
Young, 26 (and a Libra like me, born October 3 to my October 6 a few years apart), is listed at 5-foot-8. He’s not, he admits that. I won’t ask him how tall he is because he hates that. I didn’t even ask him to stand up next to me so I could guesstimate.
I will add that his energy and humor is about 10 feet tall and frankly, he hits like a giant. Not with power but with authority. He batted .289 with 30 steals at Double-A Mississippi this season and was hitting .363 in 27 games with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League with a .445 on-base average and a .559 slugging percentage, and we’re not talking little dribblers in the hole, folks. He can hit.
So it is with huge pleasure (no pun intended) that I kick off my new series with Matt Young.
GotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Young: I like to keep it hidden but on Saturday nights you can find me on the dance floor. You’ve gotta see me shimmy. You can’t really describe it in words, it’s all visual.
GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that …
Young: … am not really 5-foot-8. Shocker.
GotMiLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
Young: I really like reading a lot. I like Sudoku and crosswords. The last one I read was “The Seven Sins” and I’m still working on the Bible. I really do enjoy reading the Bible.
GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Young: Getting a full scholarship to college and saving my parents that money, and half of that scholarship being academic. I went to the University of New Mexico – go Lobos! – with a double major in entrepreneurial studies and marketing.
GotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Young: I played a summer up in Alaska which was interesting, new and exciting, and we went and walked on glaciers. That was pretty cool.
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Young: Probably coaching.
GotMiLB: What one item have you found you cannot live without on the road?
Young: A tie between my iPod and my laptop.
LIFE IN THE MINORS:
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Young: The day games after a long road trip.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
Young: It’s not as cut throat, at least not with the Braves. It’s a good family organization. Everyone pulls for one another. We’re each individuals but especially this year with our team in Mississippi, everybody is there for each other and hopefully we can all reach that ultimate goal.
GotMiLB: What is the biggest misperception that people outside of baseball have about life in the minors?
Young: That I have money and lots of it because it’s not true.
GotMiLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
Young: I played with him for four years. Van Pope. He’s interesting. A lot of it can’t be said but he is his own person.
GotMiLB: Which coach/manager have you had that you think should be in the big leagues?
Young: Philip Wellman, my manager this year in Mississippi. He is just amazing. He knows how to get the guys to play for him and besides that he’s just fun.
GotMiLB: What is the one question you hope you never hear again?
Young: I’m tried of hearing “Is it difficult to play with guys twice your size?” I’m tired of the short questions. It’s part of life, let it go.
GotMiLB: Well, in Mesa, how does it feel to NOT be the shortest guy on your team, because (Detroit 2B) Will Rhymes has to be shorter than you?
Young: I wouldn’t know because he is taller than me. We measured up back to back.
GotMiLB: You look taller than him from the stands.
Young: I love it. If I look taller, that’s all that matters. Ladies, I am taller than Will Rhymes.
GotMiLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change?
Young: Could the commissioner increase Minor League salaries? That would be it.
GotMiLB: Where have you played in the Minors?
Young: Rome, Ga., Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Pearl, Mississippi, which is right outside Jackson.
GotMiLB: On your current or most recent club, what was your favorite thing about playing there? And is there anything you would change?
Young: In Mississippi, the stadium is gorgeous. It’s perfect. I wouldn’t change anything about it. And the women in Mississippi are beautiful. But the way I play, I’d really like padded walls. I tend to run into them a lot.
GotMiLB: If family or friends were coming in to visit, where would you take them on a day off?
Young: I lived right on the reservoir in Jackson so I’d hang out there, rent a boat and cruise.
GotMiLB: In your career, what has been your favorite road trip and why?
Young: Jacksonville, Florida. Our hotel is right next to the landing, the hotel is amazing and the city is incredible.
GotMiLB: What’s your favorite road restaurant?
Young: Anywhere on the Landing in Jacksonville.
GotMiLB: What is the best minor league promotion or visiting act you’ve seen?
Young: The best one would be Elvis who came with little miniature Elvis who sat on his lap.
GotMiLB: What has been your least favorite visiting act or promotion?
Young: The worst one, my first year in Rome we were in Charleston, S.C., and they had midget wrestling in left field and I was playing left field that night. And I wore it for nine innings. And (manager) Rocket (Wheeler) refused to put me in right field that night so it was a miserable, miserable night.