The news that the Mets are just a physical away
from signing Chris Young
has me smiling. It's just that I think he's a good signing in this offseason of frugal living -- a low-cost starting pitcher who has the ability, when healthy, to be a solid starter -- but he's a good person, the kind of guy you can't help but root for.
I know this from personal experience. Back in 2002, Young was a top prospect in the Pirates' organization. (Sadly, another one that got away from Pittsburgh ... and from Montreal and, with Adrian Gonzalez
, from Texas, Young's hometown team. And none of the deals
yielded much of anything for the team that dealt away Young.) When the Bucs' Hickory Crawdads affiliate came through Lakewood, I talked to Young about his Princeton days and making the transition from college life to pro ball while
finishing up his final semester. It's one thing to earn a Princeton degree; it's quite another to do so while spending March in spring training, then riding buses across the Southeast though April and May.
As if to reward Young for his hard work, the fates lined up the Crawdads' schedule perfectly in June 2002. Hickory found itself in Lakewood, N.J., during the first weekend of June, playing the final game on Sunday -- guess who was scheduled to start -- and having a day off on Monday. Princeton's graduation was that Tuesday. So Young made that Sunday start in the series finale, then stayed behind in New Jersey while his teammates took the bus back to North Carolina. The Pirates gave Young permission to miss the Crawdads' game that Tuesday night so he could attend his graduation.
After coming across a 2007 column by Jeff Bradley
-- brother of the former Major Leaguer and Princeton coach Scott Bradley
, as well as Team USA soccer coach Bob Bradley
(a New Jersey sports family dynasty) -- I also recalled that Young spent that 2002 spring training and the first month or so of the season completing his senior thesis. The subject, in the simplest terms, was race relations in the United States in 1947, using Jackie Robinson
's Major League debut as the crux of his hypothesis. The title of the 61-page paper was The Integration of Professional Baseball and Racial Attitudes in America: A Study in Stereotype Change
, according to the database on the Princeton library's website. As The New York Times suggested a couple of weeks ago
, Young could lead the Mets' pitching staff's philosophical discussions this spring.
So I went into my files and dug up the story -- the lead to my weekly minor league notebook, it turns out -- that I wrote nearly nine years ago. Just reading "Young said yesterday at FirstEnergy Park" reminded me that we sat in the stands talking baseball and Princeton on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, before the gates opened and the fans started streaming in for batting practice. Our paths met again just three weeks later, when the BlueClaws hosted the South Atlantic League All-Star Game. Young was the winning pitcher in the North Division's 5-2 victory, but there's a bit more to that story.
Rather than rehash those stories in bits and pieces, I put the scanner to use and converted the clippings to electronic archives. (That's something I should really try to do for all my clippings.) Not mentioned in the all-star game story: the fact that the South Division's David Wright
went 0-for-2, coming on in the seventh as the designated hitter.
June 2, 2002
Things working out well for ex-Tiger star Young
Faces BlueClaws today, graduates Princeton Tuesday
Chris Young left the Princeton basketball team after his sophomore year to turn pro. No, not as a 6-foot-10 center banging Shaquille O'Neal beneath the basket, but as a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system. Oh, and he stayed in school too. At Princeton.
"After I signed, I stayed in school most of my junior year," Young said yesterday at FirstEnergy Park before the Hickory Crawdads played the BlueClaws. "Got a late start in baseball last year because I stayed in school. This year, went back to school in the fall, left school in the middle of the second semester in March to go to spring training and started playing full time."
But every day after baseball, Young returned to his room to study and complete his assignments. His diligence will pay off Tuesday, when he joins his graduating class at Princeton's commencement exercises.
"I e-mailed my work back to my professors along with my senior thesis," said Young, who earned a degree in political science. "I wrote it on racial attitudes and stereotypes and how they were affected with the integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson in 1947. I had to relate it to baseball, or else I would've lost interest.
"So for a couple months there, it was some tough times. I'm sure I wasn't the typical baseball player, going back to my room and studying during spring training, but it was worth it. I graduated in four years, so the way things turned out couldn't be better."
This weekend couldn't be better. The Crawdads finish up a seven-game road trip with today's game, and Young is the starting pitcher. They have a day off tomorrow, and Young will miss Tuesday night's game in Hickory, N.C., to attend graduation.
"This series has worked out unbelievably," said Young, who will have dozens of friends and family members in attendance today. "I get to commute back and forth during the day to be able to see some of the stuff that's going on on campus right now. I'll have all day Monday to hang out at school. Throwing the last game here
won't affect my rotation. Things couldn't work out any better."
Young, who received a $1.65 million signing bonus, is rated by. Baseball America as the 10th best prospect in the Pirates' organization. After going 5-3 with a 4.13 ERA in 12 starts in 2001, Young is 6-3 with a 2.57 ERA this year. He ranks second in wins, just one off the lead; is tied for eighth in ERA with Lakewood's Seung Lee, and is fourth with 65 strikeouts in 56 innings. Now he can really concentrate on baseball.
"I enjoyed school, but it's nice to have it behind me," Young said. "I'm not going to miss school. I'll miss the fun, the social part -- friends. But in terms of the school work, I'm not going to miss that too much. It's nice to have that behind me and I can concentrate 100 percent on baseball. It's a big relief."
June 19, 2002
LAKEWOOD -- Trey Salinas does not need a pregame home run derby trophy. He got a bigger award. Salinas, a catcher and designated hitter for the Delmarva Shorebirds, drilled a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth last night to send the Northern Division to a 5-2 victory over the South in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game -- a one-hitter by the North to boot.
After losing to Macon's Andy Marte in the final of the pregame power show, Salinas helped the North take the bigger prize and end the South's four-game all-star winning streak in the process. Naturally, he was named the game's most valuable player.
"That's something you dream about, hitting the game-winning home run in an all-star game," said Salinas, who has eight home runs for the Shorebirds this year. "That was awesome."
With the exception of Salinas' home run onto the berm in left field, the game was a pitchers duel -- emphasis on "pitchers," with a total of 17 used in the contest. Eight North pitchers carried a no-hitter into the eighth, when Macon's Greg Miller lined a clean single to right-center off Hickory's Chris Young, scoring Jay Bourgeois to tie the game 2-2.
Young ended up the winning pitcher, with the help of Salinas.
"I was so mad about losing the no-hitter, I didn't even think about (getting the win) until my teammates told me," Young said.
The North, now 9-14 in this format of the all-star game, struck first with a run in the second off starter Justin Hampson of Asheville. Lexington's Charlton Jimerson doubled to left and came around on a double by Mike Snyder of Charleston. It was Snyder, the designated hitter, whom Salinas replaced when he entered the game in the seventh.
The South evened the score in the third when Miller -- who earned most valuable player honors for his team -- was hit by a pitch from Kannapolis' Chris Honel, stole second and reached third on a wild pitch. He came home on another wild pitch, one that Honel lost in mid-motion and tossed toward the third-base dugout.
Delmarva's Benjamin Knapp was the most impressive of the nine North pitchers who threw an inning each. The right-hander struck out the side in order in the second, needing just 11 pitches to do it. The feat earned the 6-7 right-hander -- who is usually a starter -- recognition as the Northern Division's most valuable pitcher.
"It was overwhelming, I can say that," Knapp said. "As a starter, you try to get through the first few innings on just one pitch. But when you're only throwing one inning, you can throw everything out there. Everything was working for me tonight."
Augusta's Phil, Dumatrait picked up the most valuable pitcher award for the South. The lefty hit Hickory's Vic Buttler leading off the sixth, then gave up an opposite-field double to Lakewood's Ryan Howard off the wall, missing a home run by a few feet.
"I thought it might have had a chance to get out," Howard said. "But then I saw it bounce, and the left fielder threw it back in, so apparently it didn't."
With Buttler on third -- he had to hold up to make sure Howard's drive wasn't caught -- and Howard on second, Dumatrait then struck out the side to keep the game tied 1-1.
Buttler gave the North a short-lived 2-1 lead with a two-out single in the seventh, scoring Kannapolis' Chris Amador, who had reached on a two-out error. Lakewood shortstop Danny Gonzalez and Howard played the entire game for the North, along with Buttler. BlueClaws catcher Ben Margalski was 0-for-1 in his three innings behind the plate. Miller, Bourgeois and Capital City center fielder Angel Pagan played the whole game for the South.
"It was very exciting, very special," said Gonzalez, the only player with two hits, including the first one of the game in the first "I didn't expect to get a hit in my first at-bat. It just happened."
Labels: Chris Young, Hickory Crawdads, Lakewood BlueClaws, Princeton