Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Forever Young

Last night, baseball fans worldwide got to see something that has been as close to a "given" as any event on the diamond over the last three years in Arlington, Texas: Michael Young delivering a clutch, two-out hit. Yup - the secret is finally out. He doesn't belong to just us anymore.

Suddenly the adjectives and analogies are flowing from all over the U.S.

The best pure hitter in the game. The most-underrated star. One of baseball's buried treasures. The quietest great player in baseball. If he were in New York, he'd be bigger than Jeter is right now.

And, speaking of Jeter, he reportedly predicted Young's big hit - both during the ninth inning and before the game. AL manager Ozzie Guillen stated that the New York shortstop told his kids before the game that Michael Young was going to win it for their team. And, as much as I despise the Yankees, it makes me beam with (false?) pride when one of them speaks so highly of a player on my home team.

One moment will forever be etched in my mind from last night's tilt, however.

It isn't the hit itself. It isn't the quiet fist pump from Young as he slid safely into third base (because we see that a lot around here). It isn't all the quotes and accolades after the game from Young's peers. And it isn't the text message I sent to my buddy Joe after the hit, telling him that I smelled MVP honors for Young.

No, what I will remember is Michael running off the field after the top of the ninth and being greeted with a bear hug by Texas teammate Gary Matthews Jr. (who didn't do so badly himself, singling in the lone at-bat of his All-Star Game debut). The joy on both of their faces reminded me why it is that I love baseball, and it also led to me breaking my silence on this site. One gesture inspired me to write this homage to, as Jamey Newberg refers to him, the greatest Texas Ranger ever. (Stow the Nolan Ryan arguments for now.)

Back in 1990, I attended the last Ranger home game before the All-Star break. That was two days before Julio Franco had the game winning hit off of "nasty boy" Rob Dibble, thus securing MVP honors for himself. The great Chuck Morgan put together a video montage of Franco highlights set to music: Simon and Garfunkel's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard".

I'm thinking today's entry title, 'Forever Young' by Rod Stewart, will make a nice accompaniment to whatever footage of Michael Young that Chuck can string together...

And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you'd have done to you
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you'll always stay
Forever young