By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 19, 2007
VIERA, Fla., March 18 -- Dmitri Young strolled through the Washington Nationals' clubhouse Sunday morning, lugging a duffel bag full of gear and wearing jeans and a vintage peace sign T-shirt, just as Larry Broadway exited the shower, wearing only a towel. A half-dozen lockers apart in an otherwise empty room but never looking at each other, Young carefully donned his Nationals uniform while Broadway threw on his jeans, one career on the verge of resuscitation, the other on the edge of an abyss.
Sunday was the day the Nationals finally brought Young, 33, over from their minor league facility, where he had spent the last five weeks getting back in shape following a tumultuous 2006 with the Detroit Tigers. But the move came with a sobering corollary: Broadway was sent to the minors, left to face a third straight year at Class AAA and, at 26, the growing realization that what may have been his best shot at the majors had just slipped away.
"It was very surprising," Broadway said in quiet tones. "They said they didn't see enough power, and they wanted to see what Dmitri had to offer. I actually thought this was one of my best springs. I'd been getting hits and trying to be patient at the plate."
Broadway was hitting .333, but had only one extra-base hit, a double, among his seven hits. For a team expected to lack offensive firepower, particularly with regular first baseman Nick Johnson out until at least midseason, that is not good enough. The Nationals need to see balls flying over fences, not trickling through the infield grass. To make room for Young, the team needed to send away Broadway or veteran Travis Lee, and Lee has three extra-base hits this spring and twice as many RBI (six) as Broadway.
"Larry swung the bat okay at times," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "He just didn't do the damage we were hoping to [see]. . . . We're going north in 10 days. There's not a lot of time left. We felt Travis Lee had beat out Larry Broadway. We felt with only 10 days to go, it was important to get Dmitri Young at-bats now and let the competition continue between the two of them."
Manager Manny Acta, who informed Broadway of the decision in his office, said Broadway took the news well. The Nationals had hoped Broadway would seize the opportunity created by Johnson's injury, but the additions of Lee and Young in January and February, respectively, signaled the team's questions about him.
"We gave him a fair shot," Acta said. Asked if Broadway still had a future with the Nationals, Acta said, "He's a young man. . . . He had a decent season last year in Triple-A. He put the bat on the ball here in spring training. He held his own. So yeah, I don't see why not. He has to convince people he is ready. Drive the ball and take that job again."
Although Nationals officials said Lee remains in the running for the first base job, Acta may have telegraphed the team's intentions Saturday when he said the team will value offensive production above all else at first base. Lee, 31, is a career .256 hitter known for his defensive skills, while Young is a career .289 hitter who hit 21 homers as recently as 2005. And with super-utility man Robert Fick a virtual lock to make the team because of his ability to play catcher, first base and outfield, the team will not carry both Lee and Young.
Young homered and singled off Los Angeles Dodgers ace Jason Schmidt during a split-squad game Thursday night, and went for 1 for 2 Sunday in a 3-1 loss to the Florida Marlins, with a double, a line-out and a walk. On defense, he appeared solid, making nice plays on a popup over his shoulder and a grounder to his right.
The only remaining questions about Young are whether he can play first base -- the Tigers last year pulled the plug on him after he made three errors in a game July 31 -- and whether his personal troubles are behind him. His 2006 season included a two-month absence while he underwent drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence. The Tigers released him in September, just before embarking on a postseason run that took them to the American League pennant.
"I'm just coming out here to have fun and be the Dmitri of old," Young said Sunday. "Having a clear head and not having anything affecting me or anything like that, that's what's been helpful."
Asked if he could put up numbers similar to his career norm if given 500 at-bats with the Nationals, he said, "And then some."
As Young grabbed his bat and glove and headed toward the field, and Broadway reached into his jeans pocket for his car keys, their paths crossed and they had a brief exchange in passing.
"Just 'good luck,' basically," Young said, when asked what he told Broadway, knowing full well that at the intersection of opportunity and ability, where careers are made and lost, luck has very little to do with it.