Phillies hope Michael Young is positive influence on Delmon Young

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The Phillies hope Michael Young can have a positive effect on Delmon Young. (Staff Photos)

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Earlier this week, Michael Young and Mike Napoli found each other behind the batting cage here and wrapped their arms around each other.

Hugs and handshakes between players in different uniforms is hardly news in baseball, especially when they are ex-teammates, but this one lasted longer than most, like a reunion of brothers.

"When you play with somebody and you have success and it's with guys you consider great teammates, those things never die," Michael Young was saying in front of his locker at Bright House Field early Wednesday morning. "When you have a good teammate like that, you never forget him."

For a Phillies fan, the dream is that such an exchange might someday take place between Michael Young and that other Young on the team, Delmon. It would mean that Michael Young's willingness to leave his only team - Cliff Lee called him "the heart and soul" of the Texas Rangers - had paid off in at least one long playoff run, and probably more. And that would mean the Phillies' gamble on the talented but self-destructive other Young had been a savvy and not stupid one.

After a season in which he was both suspended for drunken, anti-Semitic remarks and named the ALCS Most Valuable Player, Delmon Young is in Phillies camp. He is rehabbing after offseason foot surgery and trying to get himself in playing shape to join the Phillies by the time Carlos Ruiz comes off his suspension. Both righthanded bats with pop, the two players could balance and ignite an offense that was downright tepid for much of last season, and thus take some needed heat off their once-impenetrable pitching staff.

"We get those guys back, that's a pretty strong lineup that we can put on the field," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We could really produce some runs."

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That should not be a problem for Ruiz, who caught Wednesday's 4-1 victory over the Tigers and is healthy. But no one knows what to expect from the younger Young, a former first-round draft pick who, at age 27, is already with his fourth organization. Wednesday, as 36-year-old Michael Young was fine-tuning his game as the designated hitter against the Tigers in Lakeland, Delmon Young squeezed in some at-bats in a minor league game in Clearwater, hopping more than running to first when he pulled a ball to the left side of the diamond.

When focused and fit, Delmon Young is capable of providing the kind of numbers the Phillies once got from Jayson Werth and the kind they expected from Hunter Pence. With the Twins in 2010, after shedding 35 pounds to get down to 200, Young hit .298 with 21 home runs and 112 runs batted in. Acutely aware of this, the Phillies will add an additional $650,000 to the $750,000 they guaranteed him when they signed him to a 1-year deal in Januray. With other production incentives, the deal could be worth as much as $3.5 million, and both Delmon and the Phillis' brass would love to see him collect that.

That's where Michael Young comes in. While they sit a few chairs away from each other in this clubhouse, they are on the opposite ends of the character grid. Married to his high school sweetheart, cerebral both in his approach and clubhouse manner, Michael Young brings more than his .301 career average or perennial postseason experience to this Phillies team. He oozes professionalism, whether you are talking about his willingness to play all four infield positions as the Rangers acquired or promoted talent, or simply a work ethic and fitness regime that has allowed him to play in at least 155 games in all but one of the last 11 seasons.

Delmon Young's .298 average in 2010 is a beacon to what he can do. Michael Young's career average is a barometer of what he should do. Even last year, his worst as a pro as he bounced from position to position just to get at-bats, Michael Young finished his last 31 games with a .313 average, calming concerns that his skills had rapidly declined.

After a slow start, Michael Young had his average up to .261 entering Wednesday's game. As the Phillies' DH, he doubled, knocked one run in with a sacrifice fly and pushed another run home with a ground out. The game was representative of his career.

"The way I see it, the sky's the limit," he said. "I feel I can do a lot for this team playing in the same spot every day. My biggest goal every season is health and consistency. Make sure I'm on the field to play my 155-plus. Be durable. Be a good teammate and try to do everything I can to try to make the guys around me better."

Judging from Wednesday, we are probably at least a month away from Delmon Young playing his first game in a Phillies uniform. But if Michael Young can have that kind of positive effect on the younger Young, well, Ruben Amaro Jr. might just shake the village-idiot status disgruntled fans have stuck on him after just one mediocre season.

And that long hug between Youngs some day past their playing days?

Well, that's the stuff that championship dreams are made of.

 


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On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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SamDonnellon