Let me tell you about my history with Eric Young. Both of them. Have you got a few hours?
I started my not-so-illustrious career as a sportswriter back in the mid-1980s as something of a “GP” (as in general practitioner), covering everything from high school wrestling to solo synchronized swimming, but my heart and passion was always baseball.
As a bottom-of-the-totem-pole part-timer, though, for some reason I wasn’t immediately assigned the Mets or Yankees beat. I knew I needed to write baseball in order to write baseball (this actually makes sense) so since our paper covered the Fordham University football and basketball teams on a regular basis but NOT the Rams’ outstanding baseball team, I basically made it my own beat. If they wanted to print my stories, covered on my own time and my own dime, they could (and usually did).
In 1988, the Rams, led by freshman outfield sensation (and now Milwaukee assistant scouting director) Ray Montgomery, went all the way to the playoffs, winning the MAAC title in dramatic fashion to sew up a rain-delayed slot in the Northeast Regional tournament played at Beehive Field in New Britain, Ct.. And, once again on my own dime, I was there, covering the team as devotedly as if they were vying for a World Series title.
After two amazing but, sadly, losing efforts, the Rams were eliminated from contention (but not before the last-seeded club took Clemson to 19 innings and then ALMOST beat eventual CWS champion Stanford in a nail-biting elimination game which would be a blog entry in itself and maybe someday will be).
But I was still there and the press box was weary and overworked from rainouts and extra-inning affairs. So I volunteered to do the PA announcing for the next game on the schedule, a matchup between Clemson and Rutgers.
And that was where I first fell in baseball love with the Rutgers center fielder, a little sparkplug named Eric Young (Sr.).
He doubled, he tripled, he doubled and tripled again if memory serves me, he served as a one-man wrecking crew against Clemson, and I came home swearing I’d seen the next big league star. The fact that he lasted until the 43rd round of the 1989 draft before the Los Angeles Dodgers selected him as filler material did not dampen my enthusiasm. (Here he is in his Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes days with an even later-round Dodgers pick, some kid who they took in the 62nd round of 1988.)
He was my first true “scouting find.” He went on to play many years for several teams but made his mark with the then-fledgling Colorado Rockies, hitting a homer to lead off the bottom of the first inning in the team’s first home game to cement that legend status.
And when, indeed, he made it to the big leagues and I got a chance to chat with him a few years later, we talked not just about his own career but about his extraordinary son, who was 10 at the time I think, of whom he was extremely proud. That son had straight As and played the saxophone as well as three sports.
Fast forward and his son is now a top Colorado Rockies prospect himself, just added to the Colorado Rockies 40-man roster and vied for Arizona Fall League MVP honors (ace hurler Tommy Hanson of Atlanta won the award) with the five-time champion Phoenix Desert Dogs, winning the batting title with a .430 average, hitting a pair of grand slams including an inside-the-park job, and leading the league with 20 steals (caught just once), as true a chip off the old block as you’re going to find.
In fact, this past September, he was summoned to Denver to catch his dad’s first pitch the day he retired officially as a Rockie.
Signed as a draft-and-follow in the spring of 2004, Young led the Minors in 2006 with 87 steals, finished second in 2007 with 73, and despite missing several weeks with a broken hamate bone this past season at Double-A Tulsa, he swiped 46.
So here is a chance to get to know Eric Young Jr. a little better because odds are he will be following his his dad’s footsteps with the Colorado Rockies this coming summer. And by the way, that gorgeous shot of him right below? Taken by BJ Germano aka Camralady
GotMiLB: Who was your favorite team and player growing up?
Young: Whatever team my dad was on, and my dad. (Hey, me too!)
GotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Young: Anything related to music. I played saxophone, piano, I sing, I rap. And now all this new technology is coming out where you can start mixing music on your computers so I’m messing with that now too.
GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I …
Young: … can dunk a basketball. When people look at my stature (5-foot-10) they think I can’t get that high.
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Young: Finishing up college right now to get my business management degree.
GotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Young: In the Hawaiian Winter League (2007) all the tourist things, going jet-skiing and parasailing and all that cool stuff.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Young: The day-in, day-out grind. You’re not making that much money. You’ve got that dream of yours and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel but a lot of people I’ve seen over the last couple of years couldn’t deal with the grind and just called it quits.
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: Bus rides. I definitely wasn’t ready for the bus rides. I was traveling with my dad when I was a bat boy so we traveled on planes. But when I first got to Casper, Wyoming, our first ride was 14 hours. I didn’t like that too much.
GotMiLB: What is the biggest misperception that people outside of baseball have about life in the minors?
Young: They think I’m loaded.
GotMiLB: What is the one question you hope you never hear again?
Young: Not so much the question but depending on the situation, maybe if I had an 0-for-4 game with a few strikeouts, they’ll ask me “so what were you thinking about during the game?”
GotMiLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change?
Young: The eligibility year, pushing it back to three and four (until two years ago, players became eligible for the 40-man roster after three years if they’d been signed out of college or four out of high school. The rule was changed to add a year before they must be added or left open to the Rule 5 draft and added a year off the 40 to Young’s status).
GotMiLB: Where have you played in the Minors?
Young: Casper, Wyoming; Asheville, N.C.; Modesto, Cal.; Tulsa, Okla.
GotMiLB: On your current or most recent club (Tulsa), what was your favorite thing about playing there?
Young: (*crickets*). The location of the field was good in comparison to where my apartment was.
GotMiLB: What is the best minor league promotion or visiting act you’ve seen?
Young: I like the mustache night we had this year. Everybody in the stands wore them and they let us wear our fake mustaches during the game.
GotMiLB: What has been your least favorite visiting act or promotion?
Young: David Hasselhoff Night.
I promised that when I made the occasional “personal life” blog entry, I would find some sort of warning avatar like a baseball sticking a fork in its eye. I’m afraid the best I could do was this picture of my daughter Dana’s first birthday, where her rakish headwear looks pretty hazardous to one’s eyesight.
It seems like only yesterday that I was the increasingly unwieldy beat writer for the 1990 Prince William Cannons (Yankees) in the Carolina League, lumbering my way through the hot summer months with a mid-October due date.
Every time the team would come home from a road trip, catcher Brad Ausmus would look at me, apparently 30 pounds heavier than a week before, and say “There is NO WAY you’re not having that baby before October.”
In the dugout, the talk would often turn to raising children. First baseman J.T. Snow had an open mind about that sort of thing. He said “My kid can play any position he wants to.”
And at the occasional reception, “my players” were very protective of me and “Spot” as we called the impending blessed event since we didn’t know his/her gender at the time … they would take sips of whatever was in my cup to make sure it wasn’t alcoholic! (It was always club soda).
When she was born a full month early, a lot closer to when Brad Ausmus predicted she’d come than when my own doctor said she’d come, I told him that if ever gave up baseball and decided to pursue obstetrics I would totally come to his practice.
In the nearly 18 years since then, I’ve run into many of those players over the course of the seasons. Some remember the baby (or even just remember that was I expecting a baby) and ask after her.
Some she’s gotten to “know” in the way that a little kid could get to “know” a kind and patient and friendly player. Her FAVORITE player as a little one, outfielder Ronnie Gant, took her onto the field with him at a spring training game when he was playing for the Cardinals, the year when he was coming back from a horrible dirt bike accident. I had written a column at Baseball Weekly where I talked about Dana asking if Ronnie’s “boo boo” was better. And he had read it and when he saw us, he lifted her out of the stands and brought her onto the field, something she — and we — remember to this day.
The funny thing is that Dana has never really been a huge baseball fan, much to our chagrin.
She thinks it’s OK. She basically GETS it. She just has other things she’d rather do than watch a game. Like play music. Or write songs. Or watch reruns of “Gilmore Girls” or “America’s Next Top Model” marathons or “Scrubs.”
But she did get a kick when she was about 9 when Nickelodeon hired her to follow ME around my Spring Training job that day for a “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” assignment. She dragged the infield, she chatted with the ever-affable Jose Lima and Casey Candaele, she got her Flat Stanley to pose with Candaele and Scipio Spinks,
and she interviewed Mike Piazza. AND she got paid for it!
That was about as cool a spring vacation as anyone had. Most of her classmates’ Flat Stanleys had gone to their grandma’s houses or gone shopping at Giant.
Anyway … the years have passed. She changed her plans re: taking Derek Jeter to the senior prom. She passed all her classes with flying colors. She’s had a great high school career. She got to play “Reno Sweeney” in “Anything Goes.” her ex-band has played CBGBs and Washington DC’s 9:30 club — twice. She was accepted to the college of her dreams with a partial scholarship and starts there in the fall, moving eight hours away from me where she can watch Red Sox games from out of her dorm window. It’ s all good, all except that empty nest I will fill with … well, boxscores and road trips.
Today she finished her high school work. She turned in her last Venn Diagram. She received her last rocking A in English that exempted her from her final exam. At about 11:00 a.m. she came home and did a little “Rocky” triumphant dance loop around the kitchen.
My baby has grown up. Here she is day of her senior prom with her date, her boyfriend Zach, who was definitely a preferable prom date (no offense, Derek).
I am trying to see the similarities between her and the baby with the birthday hat horns. Ah well. All I know is that I am proud of her and love her very much and hope she and I can spend SOME fun quality time this summer watching some old eps of “Sex in the City” and shopping before she leaves for Boston in August. And and that she gets out there and starts playing her music.
So … congratulations my wonderful, beautiful Dana. You’ll always be my baby.