Rays already in awe of Young

Young already has Rays in awe

ST. PETERSBURG -- While other kids around the clubhouse were playing, Delmon Young studied. Not books, but players.

As Young grew up, older brother Dmitri played first base for the Cardinals, Reds and then Tigers, so there were a lot of good guys to watch. Guys like Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith and potential future Hall of Famers Mark McGwire, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey.

And when it was finally Delmon Young's turn to shine, he was more than ready for the opportunity.

"What I'm finding out is that he's been a great student of the game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's what I'm appreciating. I don't care about all the home runs, this guy really gets into the details. He understands the details of the game already, and I want our young guys to watch this.

"If he can do it, they all can do it."

Familiarizing himself with Major League clubhouses for eight years before it actually came time for Young to suit up in one definitely didn't hurt: the 20-year-old hit .727 (8-for-11) against the World Series champion White Sox in the series following his first callup at the end of August. Since then, he's cooled down, but is still at .400 (14-for-35), including three doubles, two homers and six RBIs.

Through it all, Young appears nonplussed about how well he made the transition from Triple-A Durham to the big leagues.

"I've been around the game since I was 12, with my brother. So everything's been about the same -- I just get to play this time," Young said. "The only thing different is the crowd size is a lot bigger than in Triple-A. And it's on TV. The game's the same between the lines. They throw strikes, they throw balls, you hit balls, you catch balls."

Young made it look just that simple against Twins ace and American League Cy Young candidate Johan Santana on Tuesday, doubling and singling for the only hits Santana would allow during his eight-inning shutout of Tampa Bay. He came through again one day later, breaking up Carlos Silva's no-hitter with a single, the only hit the Rays had against the righty.

"I could compare him to a lot of guys who came to baseball at a young age and knew how to play, and that's what he's got going for him, he knows the game," said Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer, who's been around the game for 58 seasons. "This kid's got more talent than most young guys that come up to the big leagues.

"Plus, he's got the baseball sense. I don't know what he did as a young kid ... but I would say wherever he's been, he's been around people who know how to play the game. You just don't pick that stuff up on your own."

A lot of that has to do with his brother, Dmitri, an 11-year veteran of the Major Leagues and 2003 All-Star. Many rookies spend as much time adjusting to life in the Majors as they do honing their on-field skills, but by the time Young came through the Rays' system, it was all old hat.


"I've been around the game since I was 12, with my brother. So everything's been about the same -- I just get to play this time. The only thing different is the crowd size is a lot bigger than in Triple-A. And it's on TV. The game's the same between the lines. They throw strikes, they throw balls, you hit balls, you catch balls."
-- Delmon Young

Even more so than his performances at the plate, Young has won Maddon's admiration with his defense. The rookie held nothing back during his first game at Tropicana Field against the Mariners on Monday. Ichiro Suzuki had belted a leadoff single and tried to advance to third when Chris Snelling singled to Young in right. Young calmly scooped up the ball and fired a laser to third, where Ichiro, who's known for his speed, was tagged out.

But Maddon said there are things Young's learned growing up that go beyond making the plays.

"I have no qualms about him whatsoever," Maddon said. "I've seen him back up first base on a called strike three that the catcher blocked, and has to throw the runner out at first base. I'd say he's one of the few right fielders in all of baseball that do that. That, to me, means everything. After that, I'll accept anything else that he does."

Maddon showed his faith in Young by placing him in center field during Rocco Baldelli's scheduled off-day Sunday to see what he could do.

"This guy is so good. If he makes a mistake, it's no big deal -- I'm really not concerned about that," Maddon said. "I'm really enjoying getting to know him. I just really like what he's doing. I would like the young kids to come out to watch us play, and watch everything he does. Because this young man here could be the poster boy.

"If you want to do this 'quality guy,' he might be it. Fundamental baseball."

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.