StarTribune.com

'The new Delmon'

By JOE CHRISTENSEN, Star Tribune

February 11, 2008

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. — Delmon Young had just finished a workout Nov. 29, when the news came that he'd been traded from Tampa Bay to the Twins.

He hung up the phone and started beaming.

He had been coming to the Peak Performance Project (P3) in Santa Barbara for weeks, making the 45-minute drive from his parents' home in Camarillo, and people inside the training center never had seen him so happy.

"He was bursting at the seams," said Marcus Elliott, P3's director. "I told him, 'I don't know what the Twins gave up for you, but whatever it was, it was a good deal.'

"They traded for the old Delmon, and they're getting the new Delmon."

The old Delmon always had solid work habits and incredible promise. But he had developed a reputation that was proving hard to shake.

Since becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft, Young had several troubling incidents on his résumé, including an infamous bat toss in 2006.

Young, 22, said he made a conscious decision to change his attitude the day after the season, when he got home from Tampa.

"It was time to clean it up and grow up," he said, as sweat dripped off his 6-3, 215-pound frame from a recent workout. "You get four years from 18-21 -- you know, college time -- where you can get in a little bit of trouble. But after that you've got to wake up and join the real world."

Going to P3 was part of the change. Elliott, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, trains baseball players to focus on the explosive movements unique to their sport, emphasizing leg drive, hip explosion and shoulder strength.

Young began working out with the likes of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Cleveland's Casey Blake.

Friends noticed a difference in Young. His family did, too.

And then came the trade. Young said he felt like a 16-year-old who got a car for his birthday.

"This is the happiest I've been, probably since high school," he said. "It's like I've got a fresh start."

Welcome to Camp Larry

Young's father, Larry, watched a recent workout at P3 and noted his approval.

"He's more focused," Larry said. "I think he's grown about five maturity years in the last year."

Larry is the one who taught Young how to set goals and pursue them relentlessly. His own story provided the inspiration.

He rose from humble beginnings in Mississippi to the elite level of Navy pilot trusted to fly the F-14.

Larry made 286 landings onto aircraft carriers and then trained his extraordinary focus on his children, raising two sons into major league ballplayers, with both becoming first-round draft picks.

The workouts were legendary.

Larry would force his boys to take 200, 300, sometimes 500 swings every day, barking instructions and insults like a military sergeant until they got it right.

Camp Larry, the boys called it.

Dmitri, 34, stuck with the program until he was drafted, then pulled back. Now with the Washington Nationals, he is a two-time All-Star, but his career has followed a winding path.

Delmon, who is 12 years younger, made a goal of outperforming Dmitri every step of the way.

In 2005, he was named Baseball America's minor league player of the year. But he was so upset the perennial last-place Rays hadn't promoted him to the majors, he went on a media conference call and ripped the organization, which had given him a $5.8 million contract out of high school.

A few days shy of his 20th birthday, Young called the team "cheap" and said, "As soon as I become a free agent, I'll bounce out of there."

Already, Young had received a three-game suspension for bumping an umpire in Class AA.

Then, on April 26, 2006, he flung his bat at a Class AAA umpire and hit him in the right arm.

International League President Randy Mobley decided on a 50-game suspension.

"Delmon and I spoke a time or two, and he was very contrite," Mobley said last week. "I remember saying, 'Time will tell.' "

Flinging the bat

During the suspension, the Rays asked Young to do 50 hours of community service. He wound up doing 52, spending time with a wheelchair softball team and troubled youth from the Tampa area.

"I could tell immediately that he recognized the magnitude of the incident," said Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay's executive vice president of baseball operations. "Once the act was done, you couldn't undo it, but we felt he was going to learn the right lessons from it."

Young's agent, Joel Wolfe, connected him with acclaimed sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.

"I met Harvey at the right time," Young said. "He's blunt, right to the point, and he had the data to make me realize some things.

"It was a sports issue, not an anger issue. It's like a little kid who wants something bad and doesn't get it."

What Young wanted most was a promotion. Dmitri had been the fourth overall pick in the 1991 draft by St. Louis and not reached the big leagues until 1996.

Larry said Dmitri was on a mission to reach the majors before age 20. He had seen Alex Rodriguez and Andruw Jones do it. In his case, Young blamed the Rays.

When Friedman moved into the general manager role, after the 2005 season, he reached out to Young and told him he needed to show more patience at the plate.

How aggressive is Young? According to Stats Inc., he took more swings last season (1,484) than any player in the past 20 years except Alfonso Soriano, who took 1,519 hacks for the Yankees in 2002.

But that day in Pawtucket, R.I., Young was determined to be patient. He took a third strike from Boston Red Sox prospect Jon Lester. With the minor league umpires on strike, a replacement named Rick Cacciatore was working home plate.

Young thought the pitch was outside and drew an ejection for arguing.

"The reason you were sent down to Triple-A was to work on strike zone judgment, and you get rung up on something so far off the plate," Young said. "You're basically going, how am I supposed to work on things when the guys weren't qualified to do the job?'"

Young was about 12 feet from Cacciatore when he flung his bat. He insists he never meant to hit the umpire, only to show his disapproval by tossing the bat toward home plate.

Cacciatore, a longtime college umpire, declined to comment for this report.

Young admits his mistakes

With the suspension behind him, Young finally reached the majors in August 2006, hitting a home run off Chicago White Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia in his first big league game.

He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting last year to Boston's Dustin Pedroia and didn't have another publicized incident until the season's second-to-last day.

When Rays manager Joe Maddon benched him for not running hard to first base at Toronto, Young threatened to blow off the season's final game. But he apologized the next morning, and Maddon sent him into the season finale in the sixth inning.

Young, who said he never has missed a game because of injury, actually played in all 162 games for the Rays in 2007, batting .288 with 13 home runs and 93 RBI.

"Delmon is an extremely hard worker who is driven to be the best," Friedman said. "We certainly had little incidents with him that I would chalk up much more to immaturity than anything else.

"But throughout it all, I don't think there was a question in anybody's mind that he would get through that and be a great asset in the clubhouse."

Friedman said Young wasn't traded because of his attitude. The Rays needed pitching, so they targeted Matt Garza, along with Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett, and made the six-player swap.

"We talked to a lot of people about this guy, and there's accountability to his actions," Twins GM Bill Smith said. "He messes up, but he comes back the next day and says, 'I messed up.'

"He's the first one in the clubhouse every day. He does a lot of early work. He's good with his teammates. ... In all our research, we kept coming up with things that make him an ideal guy for the Minnesota Twins."

Young said nobody seemed happier than Dmitri, who learned to admire the Twins all those years he played for Detroit.

"It usually starts at the top, and since Ron Gardenhire took over that team, they've been a well-oiled machine," Dmitri said. "For Del to go into a situation like that, it's a chance for him to shed that old skin he had in Tampa."

Young got a good taste at TwinsFest, where he got to know many of his new teammates, especially Michael Cuddyer. The Twins also had Young film a commercial with Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Kent Hrbek.

Larry Young, who now flies for Delta Airlines, said his son called him from Minneapolis and said, "I haven't even put on a uniform for this organization, and I've already done a commercial with four Hall of Famers."

Perhaps Minnesota is a place the new Delmon can thrive.

"The thing is," Young said, "you can't just hope to make it all change in one day. You can mess up a reputation in one instance. But to build it is going to take years."