It's finally Michael Young's turn
After years of plugging away, longtime Rangers leader savors first postseason berth
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Less than 24 hours after the Texas Rangers clinched their first division title in 11 years, the plastic was off the lockers, the champagne bottles were cleared out and the haze from the cigar smoke had dissipated.
And Michael Young's voice was gone.
"I lost my voice from the celebration yesterday, but it was fun," Young said Sunday. "In the back of everybody's mind, we're still focused on the big prize."
The team leader, who was called up to the majors 10 years ago in the last week of September, wasn't going to let the memory of finally clinching his first postseason appearance fade too quickly.
Young was at the center of the crazy celebration Saturday. He was mobbed by teammates at third base just after the final out was registered and hugged each and every member of the team on the field, clearly excited to end a long drought.
He was doused with cheap champagne and even had a cooler full of ice dumped on him like a Super Bowl-winning coach. He stayed in the clubhouse for about two hours after the game and then had dinner with his parents and in-laws
"I'm glad I'm a Ranger," Young said Saturday, drenched in a mixture of beer, alcohol and water. "This is where I've always wanted to be. This is the place I call home. These are the fans I'm proud to represent. This is an organization I'm proud to represent."
A day later, Young was still reflecting a little on what it all means to him.
"I made my big league debut for this team in Oakland in 2000, and the fact that I'm still a Ranger means everything to me," Young said. "I want to win here. I want to finish my career here. Hopefully this is just a start."
No one deserves this postseason more than Young, though you'd never get the team leader to admit that.
"I don't think I deserve to win any more than anyone else in this clubhouse just because I've been here awhile," Young said days before the clinching game. "This is our team. This is the 2010 team. It has nothing to do with what's happened in the past.
"I knew we'd win here. It's too special a place to play, so I knew it would happen eventually. The biggest thing was when it was going to happen and the group of guys I'd be around with. I couldn't imagine suiting up with a better group of guys. They are guys that are hungry to win and are flat-out great teammates."
Statements like that are one reason Young is such an important leader.
He has compiled an impressive list of individual accomplishments. He's won a Gold Glove and an AL batting title. He is the all-time franchise hits leader and a six-time All-Star. He is one of only six players in major league history with at least 200 hits in five or more consecutive seasons.
I thanked him with all my heart for helping these guys get there. I thanked him with all my heart for being a leader. These guys followed him.” -- Rangers manager Ron Washington's message to Michael Young
How many elite players are asked to change infield positions twice for the good of the team?
Young finished second in the Gold Glove balloting at second base in 2003, but he shuffled over to shortstop when Alex Rodriguez was traded for Alfonso Soriano. Then, when the club decided that Elvis Andrus was ready to start at shortstop in the big leagues last year despite never playing above Double-A, Young moved to third base. That change came one season after he'd won his first Gold Glove at shortstop.
Young certainly didn't want to move from shortstop and made that clear. But after the decision was made, he focused on learning a new position and improving. He gained even more respect from a young team because of it.
Young figured he'd be taking swigs of champagne a lot sooner than 2010. He never dreamed it would take this long when, in spring training of 2007, he and the club made a huge commitment to each other with a long-term contract through 2013.
Among active players, Young had the second-most career games without a postseason appearance (1,501 entering Saturday). He was more than 200 games behind Randy Winn of the St. Louis Cardinals, whose drought is likely to continue.
"I thought it would happen before now and I always thought Tex would be here with me," Young said, referring to former teammate Mark Teixeira. "But once the '07 season began to unravel, I knew it was going to take awhile and we had to let the rebuilding plan take its course."
Teixeira, one of Young's closest friends, is among many players who are pleased that Young is getting his chance to experience postseason baseball.
"It's great that Michael is finally getting this opportunity because he just wants to win," Teixeira said earlier this month. "He always plays the game hard and always plays the game the right way and he deserves to have a chance to win a World Series.
"We were younger, but by the time I left we had a really young team and everyone looked at Michael as the guy that had been there the longest. He was the most tenured and we didn't have many veterans in that clubhouse. So even at 30, 29 years old, Michael was the leader."
Teixeira, who has won a World Series with the New York Yankees, told Young in spring training that he thought the Rangers would win the AL West. And Teixeira's departure from Texas is one reason why that's now happened.
Young knew that sending Teixeira to Atlanta during the 2007 season for a package of players that included 2010 stalwarts Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison meant starting over with a team that was going to take some major lumps in an effort to learn together at the big league level.
The commitment general manager Jon Daniels made to putting together a strong farm system that could build assets from within was not a one-year project. Young knew that.
When the club began to show signs of competing in 2009, Young called Daniels before the trade deadline to tell him the team liked its young players and would support Daniels if he decided to hold his cards and prepare for an even better 2010. Daniels did that, allowing him to play those cards in various deals this season to help get the team to its first postseason in more than a decade.
Young, now 33, will finally get a chance to experience it.
"It's the most important thing for him," said second baseman Ian Kinsler, one of Young's closest friends. "He's basically accomplished everything in the game as far as awards are concerned individually. He's wanted a taste of that postseason. He wants to play on that stage."
Kinsler has seen Young grow right along with the rest of the team as the club continued to improve with more young talent.
"Michael is going to do his thing every day and that's what he brings to the field," Kinsler said. "But now he understands that he's been in the league for 10 years and he has a lot of experience and things he can teach the younger players. And he's doing that."
Whether that's giving an encouraging word or a stern lecture when needed, Young will do it.
He and some of the other veterans called a team meeting in Toronto after the club lost its fifth straight game earlier this month, and the Rangers went on to rattle off seven straight wins (including a sweep of the Yankees).
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He's never been a rah-rah leader, but he allows teammates to learn from his actions. Young's reputation throughout the league is that he's a hard worker who will do anything to win.
"We see that every day from him," reliever Darren O'Day said. "He's here doing everything he can to get better and make the team better."
So finally, after breaking into the majors with the Rangers for most of the 2001 season and becoming an everyday fixture since, Young is going to the postseason.
Manager Ron Washington, who gave Young a big bear hug on the field after the final out on Saturday, told his third baseman how proud he was to coach him.
"I thanked him with all my heart for helping these guys get there," Washington said. "I thanked him with all my heart for being a leader. These guys followed him. I reminded him that we need 11 more wins and to make sure he let the team know that."
There's no question Young will. He waited 10 years to taste champagne in a winning clubhouse. He'd rather not wait too much longer for the bigger prizes that could await this team in the postseason.