Embracing the Momentum

First baseman Dmitri Young, who will represent the Nationals at Tuesday's All-Star Game, has had an up-and-down career.
First baseman Dmitri Young, who will represent the Nationals at Tuesday's All-Star Game, has had an up-and-down career. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 8, 2007

During the past year, Dmitri Young was arrested, finalized a divorce, was treated for alcoholism, lost his job, trimmed shrubbery, endured a four-day hospital stay, thought he was going to die, believed he would never play baseball again, won a starter's spot at first base for the Washington Nationals, hit .341 and was named an all-star.

"You don't have enough paper," Young said recently, staring at a reporter's notebook, one waiting to be filled with the whole story.

The whole story, it turns out, doesn't begin with Young's dismissal from the Detroit Tigers, who were en route to the World Series. It doesn't begin with his battles with substance abuse, or with the charges that he choked a girlfriend, or with a diagnosis of diabetes. The whole story follows a meandering path of a military family, from Mississippi, where Young was born, to the District, where he arrived when he was less than a year old, on to Virginia Beach and to Montgomery, Ala., eventually to Southern California, where he ended up in high school. It begins in a batting cage where Larry Young, a Vietnam veteran and former F-14 pilot in the U.S. Navy, bought his eldest son 200 swings a day.

"What time do you want to practice today?" Larry Young would ask.

"I don't," Dmitri would say.

"Okay," the father would shoot back. "We'll leave in five minutes."

Larry Young will be in the stands Tuesday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco, where his boy will be an all-star 16 years after he was drafted, some 25 years after those relentless hours in the cage. All that has happened in the past year has made Larry Young think about the way he handled Dmitri when the whole story was just beginning. "I was like a dictator back then," Larry Young said by phone.

"I kind of blame myself," he said. "That's the only way I knew."

The way Larry Young envisioned life involved adding links to a hypothetical chain. Master one task, one skill, and you earn a link. Perfection, mastery, meant a 100-link chain. Back then, in Virginia Beach, Dmitri Young was working on his fifth link, then his sixth.

"By the time he got those, I'd be moving on to nine and 10," Larry Young said. "He'd want to be satisfied, and I'd want to move on. I was always working on stuff, and I would end up breaking his confidence rather than building it."

When the batting cage opened in Virginia Beach, the owner created a special -- $200 for 200 swings a day for three months. That's 18,000 hacks.

"We would work," Dmitri said, "and we would work."


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