Mackey: One year after leaving team, Delmon Young is thriving
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MINNEAPOLIS -- On this day, May 12, one year ago, the Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 6-2 at the Metrodome to improve to 16-17 on the season. Delmon Young went 0-for-3, tallying an RBI on a groundout in the bottom of the sixth inning.
It was the last game Young would play for 12 days. He left the team to be with his mother, Bonnie, who died just a few days later after a bout with cancer.
Young would return to the team on May 24, failing to collect a hit in his first three games back. He finished the first two months of the 2009 season hitting .239/.282/.275 with only one home run, and he was splitting at bats with Carlos Gomez, which made it even more difficult to find a groove.
Fast forward nearly one full calendar year, and we're looking at an entirely different baseball player. And, in many cases, a different guy altogether.
"Last year he had a rough time because of his mom, personal reasons," Michael Cuddyer said. "So I think this is the first time he's really been able to just be himself in the clubhouse."
The clubhouse scene after the Twins' 3-2 victory over the White Sox was actually a fitting parallel to Young's current role in Minnesota. While reporters flocked to the lockers of Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Jon Rauch, and starting pitcher du jour Carl Pavano, Young walked through the clubhouse without fanfare, packing his bags for a three-game litmus test against the New York Yankees this weekend.
He hasn't garnered much attention from the media this season, mostly because the Twins' clubhouse is full of intriguing storylines, current and former all-stars, MVPs, gold glovers, etc.
Part of the lack of media attention, to be frank, is because Young hasn't always been the most approachable guy in the Twins clubhouse. Some of that might stem from the infamous bat-throwing incident in 2006, and the backlash that came about afterwards.
Some of it might also be embellished by misperception, or misunderstanding.
"Over the last two years, year and a half here, he's turned into one of the better teammates in this clubhouse," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think everybody out there will tell you the same thing. He's a lot of fun to be around, he doesn't put as much pressure on himself, he handles all the situations you throw at him, whether he's playing or not playing. He's done a 360, as far as where he was at, how he was fighting things and everything he had been through, to where he's at now."
So far this season, Young's name has been penciled in the lineup almost every day, and he's quietly having a very productive season. After a 3-for-4 performance with two doubles on Wednesday, Young has raised his batting line to .287/.337/.479. He now has nine doubles on the season to go along with three home runs and 14 RBI.
A far cry from the two extra base hits Young tallied through this point in 2009.
Defensively, Young is noticeably more limber as well, tracking down shallow line drives and fly balls in the gap that he wouldn't have caught when his frame carried the extra 30 pounds prior to this offseason.
When asked about playing through adversity last season, however, Young just shrugs his shoulders. He doesn't particularly like talking about himself, and he generally refrains from making excuses.
"Everyone that's played baseball has gone through something," Young said. "You're away from home, and you're spending eight months with a bunch of guys that become your family too. So you've got a support system back home, and a support system here. If you're fortunate enough to play 10 or 15 years, you're going to go through some adversity."
Coming from a guy who many (including myself) have accused of lacking maturity over the past few seasons, these comments about adversity are pretty damn... mature.
It's also interesting to hear Young's comments about his teammates -- who he considers his extended family -- and the clubhouse dynamic.
"Everyone in here is like a brother to everyone. We get on each other, but we can all take it. We all want the best for each other, and so it makes it fun. We can joke around from noon until 7:00, and from 7:00 to 10:00 we're serious about the game, and then once the game is over we're back messing around with each other."
Young carries a very mature, professional mindset with him when it comes to hitting as well -- not getting too excited after the four-hit games, and not getting discouraged after the 0-fers.
"You just worry about having quality at bats and winning games, because by the end of the season, whatever you're supposed to hit you're going to hit," Young said. "If you start off hot and you're a .278 hitter, you're going to finish at .278. If you start off slow and you're a .320 hitter, you're going to hit .320. So it doesn't matter how you start, it's just being consistent throughout the course of the season, and your numbers are going to be there when the season is over."
Traditionally, Young is notorious for slow starts and emphatic finishes. In 1,030 career first-half plate appearances, Young is hitting .277/.314/.392. In 921 career second-half plate appearances, he's hitting .302/.332/.445.
Since June 1, 2009, Young is hitting .293/.318/.473 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI in 376 at bats. Projected over 550 at bats -- or the equivalent of one full season -- and Young would have 20 home runs and 88 RBI.
Combined with much-improved defense, if Young puts up numbers like those aforementioned, he'll certainly have earned the right to gloat. Or pat himself on the back. Or even say, "I told you so."
But knowing Young, he'll probably just continue to go about his business quietly, like usual.