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There’s an unusually large number of comeback stories in baseball this year, with one or even two at virtually every training camp down here in Florida and in Arizona.
Start with Sammy Sosa. After a year’s absence — he was deemed to be a has-been in the major leagues, actually — Sosa has enjoyed a first-rate spring and has secured a spot in the heart of the Texas Rangers’ batting order. He promises prolific production, presumably without performance-enhancing aides and corked bats.
Then there’s Montrealer Eric Gagne, former relief ace with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gagne is trying to re-establish himself as a reliable closer with the Rangers after two seasons of inactivity (damaged throwing arm).
There’s also Zack Greinke, who figured his pitching career was over last year when he left the Kansas City Royals with a mysterious mental problem that was later diagnosed as social anxiety. Now, under psychological care and on anti-depressants, Greinke will be in the Royals’ starting rotation when MLB’s regular season opens next week.
And then there’s Dmitri Young, whose comeback story with the Washington Nationals strikes me as most intriguing.
Last year at this time, Young was perceived by the upstart Detroit Tigers as their most powerful hitter. The Tigers intended to revolve their offence around the 33-year-old muscleman. He was to be their leader. Turned out to be an incredibly stormy season for Young, though. He was charged with assault, then suffered through a divorce that was followed by health problems, including diabetes and depression. Late in the regular season, the Tigers cut him. And, while they advanced to the World Series, Young wasn’t even in baseball.
“I was down and out,” Young told me during a respite at the Nats’ camp in Kissimmee, Fla. “I spent the off-season dealing with my demons, praying I’d get another chance.”
His prayers were answered when the Nationals offered him a non-roster tryout. Then, Nick Johnson broke a leg and Travis Lee surprisingly asked to be released, paving the way for Young to start at first base.
“I have great expectations for Dmitri now,” Washington general manager Jim Bowden said. “Pitchers fear him. I think he’ll clean up his life and hit .300 with 20 home runs, and win Comeback Player of the Year. I honestly think he’s on a path to possibly do that.”
Added Young: “I have a zero-tolerance agreement with this club and I’m looking forward to a trouble-free season. I won’t rest now until I’m contributing in a big way.”
Young is restless. Should make for a good comeback story.