For Young, Job Fight Least of His Battles

Washington Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young talks about following-up his "Comeback Player of the Year" award, the competition at first base and admits that he will not miss RFK Stadium. Video by Jonathan Forsythe/
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

VIERA, Fla., March 4 -- Weigh-ins at spring training can be a formality, and the figure transferred to the roster is often an approximation of the truth. Why embarrass the 300-pounder if he's promised to slim down to 265? Be kind, and move on.

But here at Washington Nationals camp, there is a somewhat shocking number next to the name of one Dmitri Young. It is 291. That, too, represents Young's weight near the end of last season. When he reported here this spring, Young was up to 298 pounds.

Thus, as Young sat out Tuesday's Grapefruit League game at Space Coast Stadium -- the victim of a strained muscle in his side, one that has kept him out of action five straight days -- he understood that it is easy to draw conclusions about how he looks. Indeed, there are some in the organization who are disappointed in Young's conditioning, because the man who was Washington's most compelling story in 2007 -- overcoming a litany of personal and legal problems to become an all-star and earn a two-year, $10 million extension -- didn't pick up a bat in the offseason. He could be rapidly losing ground to Nick Johnson in the tussle for the first base job.

"People who judge, I could really care less what they think," Young said. "Their opinion means nothing. A lot of people do judge. The only judge I know is God."

Young spoke softly and without animosity Tuesday in an empty home clubhouse. Though there are pockets of disenchantment with Young's physical condition with the Nationals, there are just as many pockets of understanding. Through all of Young's travails in 2006, perhaps the least discussed was the fact that he learned he had diabetes. There is, Young and the Nationals are finding out, a fallout from such a fate.

"It's very difficult," General Manager Jim Bowden said.

"It's a lot tougher than people imagine," Young said.

Nearly 21 million Americans are afflicted with diabetes, and each must learn to handle it as best they can. Young, who received his diagnosis in late 2006, is still figuring what solutions best suit him. He currently takes insulin injections two, three or even four times a day.

Because Young's weight has not gone down -- even though he said he has "learned to eat the right kinds of foods" -- doctors have recently changed his medication. Again. Whether they find the right mix could determine whether Young is able to drop weight before the season opener, which is now just 3 1/2 weeks away.

"There's so much about it I don't even know," Young said. "I learn constantly when I meet people, things that they do to help manage it. I didn't even know that before I do any sort of physical activity, my blood sugar has to be well above 150, so when I do crash, I crash back to normal. It's a constant process."

It is one the Nationals must monitor, just as they have monitored Johnson's right leg, broken in September 2006. With Young out the past week -- he strained his side swinging in the batting cage, and though he is making progress, he will likely need at least a few more days -- Johnson has received most of the at-bats. He got three more in Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Dodgers, and though he is still unhappy with his swing, he is healthy and fit. Monday, he even stretched a single into a double, sliding into second base.

"That's the test for me right there," Manager Manny Acta said. "That's what I was waiting for. . . . You can't tell. I'm telling you, if you came from Russia, and you didn't know what was going on with him, you wouldn't be able to tell how he looked last year."

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