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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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2007 MLB Preview
Born for greatness
With his talent, work ethic and immersion in the game, Delmon Young clearly was
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 1, 2007
Rocco Baldelli knew it in September, when he saw Delmon Young creep up in the batter's box in anticipation of a changeup. Joe Maddon knew it last spring when Delmon was instinctively moving to the right place on the field.
Ken Griffey Jr. knew it in the summer of 2001, when 15-year-old Delmon took batting practice with older brother Dmitri's Reds and hit a handful of balls out of Dodger Stadium. James Shields knew it the year before that, when Delmon, as an eighth grader, starred among southern California's top high school juniors and seniors at a showcase event.
But, naturally, father knows best.
"I think," Larry Young said, "Delmon came to this world playing baseball."
With a brother nearly 12 years older playing in the big leagues, and a father on a mission to train and prepare him properly, Delmon was seemingly born, and definitely raised, to play baseball.
Whether it was dragging a bucket of balls and swinging a little plastic bat at 9 1/2 months, hacking a stick at pebbles Larry tossed him before he was 3, or playing with poise against older kids throughout most of his childhood, Delmon has always been ahead of the game.
"It always seems like I've had a bat in my hands my whole life," Delmon said. "It's just like the Cuban baseball players out there just to play baseball day in and day out. They go to school and it's baseball, baseball, baseball. That's what I've been doing my whole life."
Now he will do so on the grandest stage, taking his place, after a successful 30-game trial in September, in the Devil Rays' talented outfield.
Some experts expect him to have a long, All-Star, award-filled career, starting with a strong bid this season for the American League Rookie of the Year award. Others project him to quickly rank among the game's absolute best.
"He does have things to prove because he's a young ballplayer in the major leagues, but it's almost like everyone just anticipates him to be a great ballplayer, and that's it," Baldelli said. "Himself, his family, all of us in the clubhouse, it's not going to be a shock no matter what he does."
Raised around the game
Larry Young had a strategy.
Realizing he made mistakes with older son Dmitri - too critical, too demanding and too strict, based on how quickly Dmitri rebelled upon leaving home - Larry waited to implement his program with Delmon.
He made him commit to baseball over soccer and other sports at age 10 but let him play on raw ability for a while.
"I waited until he was 13 and then it was time to crap or get off the pot," Larry said. "I told him, 'If you want to go where Dmitri is, there's a lot of things you have to learn.' "
Larry would pick up Delmon after school and head over to the Bat-R-Up batting cages in their hometown of Camarillo, Calif. Sometimes they'd work on technique, sometimes on specific game situations.
Sometimes Larry would throw, hard and with a purpose. Other times, they'd use the machines, going from the slow cage to the fast one. Always, they stayed until Delmon took 100 quality swings. By Larry's standard.
"It might take 250 to 500 swings," Delmon said.
It wasn't perfection that Larry demanded, but consistency, focus and commitment.
"We'd be out there every single day," Delmon said. "I never had an off day from hitting."
The batting lessons were just part of Larry's program.
The other goal was to prepare Delmon for future challenges and success by strategically integrating him into the baseball world so he would be comfortable and confident at any level.
"I kind of came to call it athletic socializing," Larry said.
He started at the top, taking Delmon to Dmitri's games so he could get into the clubhouse, work as a bat boy and interact with the major-leaguers. Next, he arranged for Delmon to work out with area college players.
The final step was for him to practice and compete with top high school players. He made the American Legion team and was invited to the elite draft prospect showcase known as the Area Code Games - all before ninth grade.
"I wanted him to have the confidence from seeing how major-leaguers do things, how minor-leaguers do things, the college guys, all the way down," Larry said.
To keep Delmon motivated, Larry insisted on short- and long-term goals. Before Delmon got to eighth grade, they were preparing for him to make the Camarillo High team as a freshman. He became a four-year star, winning state and national player of the year awards and a state section championship.
The final step was to make sure Delmon cared.
"After he got his confidence, it was more about the passion with Delmon," Larry said. "When you do something well, you develop a passion. I wanted him to get a passion, to make sure you want to do it right and make it your livelihood so you don't feel like you're working."
A brother's challenge
Dmitri Young had a vision.
He wanted Delmon to be better than he was. Before Delmon's freshman year, Dmitri, who was drafted fourth overall in 1991 by St. Louis, put a baseball card with his high school stats in an envelope with a note that read, "Beat these numbers."
The result? "Shattered," Delmon said. "I'd been seeing those numbers for a long time. I just looked at it and figured, 'I can outdo these.' "
What Delmon saw as a sibling rivalry was really a loving relationship.
"Delmon was driven to be better than Dmitri," Larry said. "That was his early goal: 'I want to be better than my brother, so I'll do whatever it takes, learn whatever I can, to be better.'
"Dmitri, on the other hand, he wanted to do everything he could to make Delmon better. He treats Delmon like his son. He gets very emotional talking about his little brother."
More than motivation or an occasional tip, the most valuable gift Delmon got from Dmitri was access, an advance look at the big leagues that allowed him to be confident he could get there and be comfortable when he did.
"Just being around and getting advice from everybody that I played with, being on a big-league field and, of course, having that natural talent, that all helped him," Dmitri said.
Consider the 2001 day Delmon took batting practice at Dodger Stadium. Dmitri didn't make it any easier by telling everyone that his 14-year-old little brother would put on a big show. Wearing one of Dmitri's No. 25 uniforms, Delmon hit several balls out - and fit right in.
"He's 14 and Dmitri's like, 'He's going to be good,' " Griffey recalled. "He came out and took BP and I'm like, 'Wooo.' You knew he was going to be something."
Like Griffey, whose father played in the majors, Delmon was going to have a built-in advantage.
"He's able to hang around and able to pick up more information at that age than most kids," Griffey said. "Anytime you have someone who has been there or is there, you are going to be more advanced, and that's what he is."
Dmitri, making a comeback from personal, legal and physical problems with Washington this season, still has big expectations for his little brother.
For this season? "Without setting lofty goals," Dmitri said, "Rookie of the Year."
No ceiling on goals
Delmon Young had a plan.
"He wants to be the best," Larry said. "When he first came out, he'd tell you that. Now he's being more tactful and not saying that. But that's what drives him."
Those who have seen him play marvel at his intuitiveness about the game, rave about his knowledge, applaud his work ethic. To many, it is not a question of whether he will be good, but how good.
"It's just a matter of how great you want to be," Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield said. "That's his potential. That's what I think when I see him."
The advantages Dmitri's career provided were important but are not the only reasons for Delmon's success.
Scouts drool over his physical abilities - power, strength, speed, an amazing arm, excellent hand-eye coordination and extraordinary eyesight (20-15) and visual acuity.
"I don't know that it would be wise or fair to say it's just because he was the brother of a major-league player," said Cam Bonifay, the Rays' personnel director when they chose Delmon over Rickie Weeks with the first overall pick in 2003.
As confident (bordering on cocky) as Young may be, he understands he has a lot to learn. He swings at too many pitches (68.7 percent), doesn't walk enough (once in 131 plate appearances last season) and found out quickly that with sophisticated video scouting, pitchers can immediately exploit any weakness, forcing constant adjustments.
"I know I can compete when I'm prepared and doing everything right," Delmon said, "and I know I'll be exposed and overmatched when I'm not prepared and things are not going so well."
What sets him apart is an innate sense of the game, seeing things and trying things that even veterans don't.
What completes the package is a dogged determination to do everything better.
"I think he will tell you that he's going to boggle your mind, and I'm good with that," Maddon said. "This guy's got a lot of self-confidence and I love it. He backs it up, not just by what he does in the game, but this guy's work is impeccable.
"He's different. He wants to be a complete player. He doesn't want to just hit for average, home runs, RBIs. He wants to play defense, he wants to have the best arm, he wants to run the bases better than everybody else, he wants to bunt.
"This guy is out to make a mark on this game. I think he will."