BEYOND THE BOXSCORE: GETTING TO KNOW COLORADO 2B ERIC YOUNG JR. (AND WHY I LOVED HIS DAD)
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.