October 6, 2010

First postseason well worth wait for loyal Young

Oct. 6, 2010

By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY

The eyes were reddened and seeping with moisture, Michael Young said, because champagne doused over his head was causing them to sting.

But anyone who knows the Texas Rangers third baseman wasn't buying it.

When Young, a former UC Santa Barbara standout, and his teammates celebrated their American League West title Sept. 25, those were sheer tears of joy streaming down his face.

For the first time in Young's major league career, spanning 10 years, 1,508 games, four managers, three general managers and two ownership groups, he will be playing in Major League Baseball's postseason. The Rangers face the Tampa Bay Rays beginning Wednesday at Tropicana Field in the American League Division Series.

"It's not that I ever felt sorry for myself," Young, 34, says. "But I always wondered if I would get my turn. You wondered what it would be like. I watched every game in the postseason, every single year, just wondering what it would be like.

"Now I finally get to find out."

Struggles and sacrifices

Young has spent his entire major league career with the Rangers. He played with Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, Rich Rodriguez and Ricardo Rodriguez.

He has played on three winning teams and is the only man in MLB history to play at least 130 games at third base, shortstop and second base.

"I've seen a little bit of everything," Young says.

Except, of course, the playoff stage.

"I want to win more than anything," Young says. "This is why I play baseball. But at the same time I wanted to be here. I always envisioned winning in Texas.

"Obviously, it took a little longer than I thought, but it's all worth it."

Says Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells, Young's best friend: "Really, I don't know who's happier, Michael or his friends and family."

Wells is guilty himself. He ordered a Michael Young jersey last week. He plans to sit in the stands in Texas, cheering him and his hometown Rangers, out of respect for Young.

"I know the struggles that he's gone through and the sacrifices he made," Wells says. "I know some of the doubts that crept in.

"And to see him finally get in the playoffs, to watch his celebration on TV, I still get chills."

Wells is among the throng of players thrilled that Young finally made the postseason. New York Yankees stars Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez sent their congratulations. Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who used to manage Young in Texas, passed on a message.

"I couldn't be happier for Michael," Alex Rodriguez says, "because he deserves this. He was happy for us when we made the playoffs. Now it's his turn. It's his stage."

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Randy Winn, the only active player who has played more games than Young and never made the postseason, is almost living his dream through Young.

"It's great to see," Winn says, "because Mike Young is not only a good player but such a good guy. You want to see a guy that like rewarded."

Young was stuck on a team that finished last or next-to-last for eight consecutive years. He watched friends such as Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira leave and win World Series rings. Yet his faith and belief the organization would eventually win permeated the clubhouse.

Second baseman Ian Kinsler signed a long-term contract through 2013, he says, knowing Young would be around. Cliff Lee, acquired in July to be the Rangers' ace in the postseason, says he also will consider sticking around knowing Young will be part of the fabric.

"He plays the game the right way," Lee says. "He does everything the right way. His credentials are pretty impressive, but when you're around you respect him even more."

Young, a six-time All-Star who has hit .300 or better in a franchise-record six seasons, has rarely been the best player on the team. Texas has had MVP candidates and future Hall-of-Famers.

But he long has been the face of the organization.

"He's the string we tune off and creates the harmony," Rangers starter C.J. Wilson says. "He stuck it out with us. He never demanded a trade. He's the captain, the rock, the backbone, everything this team is about.

"Really, he's our Derek Jeter."

"We are here because of Michael Young," Rangers manager Ron Washington says. "He is the face of the Texas Rangers. He stuck by us. And he certainly is a big part of the change in the way we think around here.

"He has made three position changes and been on board trying to help in any way he can."

When Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees, Young moved from second base to shortstop to make room for Alfonso Soriano. Young won a Gold Glove in 2008 but moved again to third base the following spring to make room for rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus.

"Michael didn't like it at first," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels says, "but he wrapped his arms around Andrus. He made it so much easier for him."

It was the July 31, 2007, trade that brought Andrus, closer Neftali Feliz and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia over from the Atlanta Braves for Teixeira that had Young wondering whether he should stay. He thought the Rangers were on the brink of contention. But after they traded away Teixeira, he wondered where they were headed.

"That was a difficult year for me," Young says. "This was my seventh year in the league. I had just signed an extension (through 2013). And now we were trading Tex. It looked like were going to start rebuilding again.

"Looking back, it was an incredible deal, and I'm not sure we'd be here without making it."

Faith fulfilled

The Rangers made all of the right moves in the offseason, but still everything could have unraveled in spring training. Washington stood in front of his team and informed them he tested positive last year for cocaine. He tearfully apologized and told them he wanted to stay. If they couldn't support him, he'd understand.

Young was the first to speak.

"Wash was emotional," Young says, "and told us what happened. I said right away, 'This is a team thing. This isn't his issue. It's on ourselves. I believe in this man. I want him to lead us. I think this can bring us closer.'

"And that's exactly what happened. We came away thinking there's power in numbers. It was an issue for one or two days, and that was it."

Says Washington: "No matter what happens, that is something I'll never forget. He had my back. Really, he's always had the organization's back."

Even a year ago, when the Rangers were 1½ games out at the All-Star Game, Young called Daniels. He pleaded for him not to trade away any prospects for a veteran. He could see they were close and didn't want a short-term fix to sacrifice the future.

"That meant a lot," Daniels says. "Here he was, nine years into his career, and had never played in a postseason, and he buys into what we're doing. Most guys in his position would have said, 'Hey, sell the farm.' "

A few mid-level deals in the offseason, including the signing of designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, made Young's patience pay off.

"I've waited so long for this, but I haven't talked to too many people about it," Young says. "I want to experience it myself. I want to get in there, trust my instincts as a player and cut loose. I'm just happy to still be around to see this.

"You better believe I'm going to enjoy this."

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