This week, I interviewed 5-time All-Star Michael Young. I would like to thank Michael for doing the interview and his wife, Cristina Barbosa-Young, for working with me to set up the interview.
Me: Which one means more: the batting title, the multiple 200-hit seasons, the All-Star game MVP, or the Gold Glove? Why?
Michael: That’s a good question. I think the one that means the most to me is the multiple 200-hit seasons because I think that the really good players mostly are the ones that do it year in and year out. I think that only one middle-infielder had done that before and one right-handed hitter had ever done that before besides me, so that means a lot. But the Gold Glove isn’t too far behind.
Me: What was the key to your success in 2003 when you hit .306 (starting your string of 200-hit seasons) after hitting .262 the season before?
Michael: I think 2003 was the year where I kind of figured myself out a little more. I don’t think there’ll ever be a day where I have the major leagues completely figured out, but that was the year where I knew myself a little bit more. I knew what my strengths were. I knew what my weaknesses were. I got into a routine that allowed me to have success for a whole season. And I was surrounded by a bunch of great players. That was the first year where I actually felt completely comfortable and confident in what I was able to do at the plate.
Me: What was your reasoning for not signing with the Orioles when they drafted you in 1994?
Michael: For one, I wanted to go to college. When I was in high school, it was a huge priority for me to make sure I could go to college and finish my education. And from a baseball standpoint, I wasn’t ready physically. There’s no way I would have been productive in the minor leagues coming straight out of high school. I just wasn’t ready.
Michael: Well, I was young. I was only 17 years old. Physically I was still really really skinny. I grew a lot in college. And going from a metal bat to a wood bat at that point in my life wouldn’t have worked. Emotionally I was still a little immature. I was just a boy. I think that when you play professional sports, it takes a certain maturity to be able to handle yourself and I just wasn’t ready to do that.
Me: Did you work on something specific over the 2007-2008 offseason to make you a better base-stealer in 2008, when you went 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts?
Michael: No, I still think of that as a big weakness in my game actually. It’s something that I’m still trying to make better. I know that I have the speed to steal bases but I think stealing bases has been a weakness in my game. I think I’m a good base runner but when it comes to base stealing, I’m still trying to get better at that every day. You know, pick the spots where I know I can make it. The last thing I want to do is get thrown out a lot because I know I have good hitters behind me. But I also want to make sure I’m aggressive and I give our team a chance to score runs so it’s still something I’m trying to get better at.
Me: What’s the major difference between base running and base stealing?
Michael: There are so many things involved in base running – you know, going from first to third on base hits and going from first to home on balls in the gap, knowing when to be aggressive and when to stay put, knowing what the situation is in the game. Whereas base stealing is going from bag to bag. There are a lot of things involved in base running that people don’t understand. It’s a big, big part of the game.
Me: What was the key for your power numbers jumping up so much in 2004 (22 home runs) and 2005 (24 home runs)?
Michael: I think I’ve always been capable of hitting for power but I don’t consider myself a power hitter. I think power hitters are the guys who go out and hit 30 home runs consistently every year. I’m a line drive hitter and my job is to hit balls as hard as I possibly can all the time. I might run through stretches of my career where those balls just get up a little more. I think those two years and this year too, my swing is such that the balls are getting up in the air a little more often than they did in the past. I don’t really know the explanation. It’s not something I try to work on specifically. Like I said, my only goal when I go to hit is to hit the ball as hard as I possibly can, and if it stays up a little longer, then great.
Me: What were some of the things that factored into your decision to sign a long-term deal with the Rangers?
Michael: Well, this is the only team in the major leagues that I’ve ever known. I’ve only been a Ranger since I’ve been in the major leagues. And I wanted to stay here. My family’s comfortable here, my son was born here, we live here year-round, this is the place where we were going to be and I felt like our team was headed in the right direction where we can have the chance to have a lot of long-term success. That was the primary reason. We made a couple of trades after that that were kind of shocking at first but they’ve turned out to be great for the team. I’m glad I’m here. I don’t ever want to leave.
Me: Which trades are you talking about?
Michael: Well, Mark Teixeira was my long-time teammate and friend and I was really surprised to see him traded. But through time, I think we’ve all seen that Tex is in a place where he’s happy and our team got some really great young players for him, so I think it’s a situation that really worked out well for everybody. Like I said, right after I signed my contract, to see a guy who I considered to be one of my favorite teammates and a friend of mind get traded, it was a little shocking.
Me: What was your initial reaction when you heard about the A-Rod/Soriano trade?
Michael: I wasn’t too shocked at the time because Alex had already been rumored to be traded to the Red Sox. So when he was traded to the Yankees, I wasn’t shocked at all. At that point, it was just a matter of thinking about what position I was going to play. The team at the time said that they were going to give Soriano a shot to play shortstop and me as well, and they were going to do a thing in spring training where we both played both spots. They were going to use all of spring training that year to figure out what was going to work best. Well, I knew that heading into that season, if I was going to be playing shortstop, I wanted all the work I could possibly get in spring training in order to get ready for the season. I didn’t want to just be there half the time because I knew that would affect my play once the season started. So, my biggest thing was to let the team know that I’d do it and they could go ahead and leave Sori at second base. That way I could put all my work in in spring training and make sure I’m ready to play once the season starts.
Me: Is there any specific thing you worked on in the off-season to get ready to play third base, and if so, what was it?
Michael: No, not really. I did my offseason program like I usually do and when I got to spring training, I just went to work. My biggest thing was making sure I trusted my eyes and trusted my instincts and kind of went at my own pace. You know, spring training was a little different. It was a completely different position, a different angle, but toward the last week of spring training or so, I really started to settle in and get more comfortable. I feel very comfortable over there right now. I still think I can get a lot better at it, but I feel real comfortable right now.
Me: What has been the most surprising thing about moving to third?
Michael: To be honest with you, I haven’t really been surprised by anything. Everything at third base has pretty much gone exactly as I thought it would. There haven’t been many things that are shocking to me at all. Everything that I thought would happen has happened and there haven’t been too many surprises.
Me: They call third base the hot corner – how much harder is the ball actually hit to third than short?
Michael: You get smashes hit to you at both spots but at third obviously you have less time to react to it. I think the biggest thing that I was able to realize is that those hard hit smashes, you can’t really prepare for. They just happen. The ball’s hit and all of the sudden you’re diving and the ball’s in your glove. I really wanted to make sure I focused on those plays that are similar to shortstop, those routine ground balls. I wanted to gobble all those up, make all those plays. And the really tough plays on those hard hit smashes are going to take care of themselves. That’s pretty much the way it’s happened so far.
Me: Who are your three favorite teammates since you joined the Rangers organization and why?
Michael: Wow, that’s a good question. Ian Kinsler. Mark DeRosa. And Mark Teixeira.
Me: What’s been the best game so far of your professional career and why?
Michael: Wow, that’s a good one. I think in my second year in the league, in 2002, I went 5-for-5 with two home runs in Houston. That was probably the best game of my career.
Me: Speaking of good games, what did it feel like hitting a walk-off homer earlier this year?
Michael: It felt good. That was the first time I ever had a walk-off home run. I had some walk-off hits but I’d never had a walk-off home run. When you have your teammates waiting for you at home plate, it’s a really exciting feeling. At the time, the Royals had just beaten us two in a row, so we really needed to get that win the last game of the series so it felt really, really good.
Me: How much more exciting is it to get a walk-off homer than a walk-off hit?
Michael: Oh, it’s way more exciting because you’re on your way to home plate and you’ve got your teammates waiting for you at home plate ready to jump on you, punch you, hug you, and give you high-fives. It’s a pretty cool feeling.
Me: Out of all the minor league stadiums you’ve played in (both Rangers and Blue Jays), what were your favorite and least favorite and why?
Michael: My favorites were Oklahoma and Knoxville, Tennessee. Those were my two favorites stadiums. They’re brand new parks and the people there are really cool. My least favorites are just the ones that are really old. My first year I went to St. Catherines in Canada and my second year I was in Hagerstown, Maryland. Looking back, they were just old ballparks but the cool thing about it was I didn’t know any better. Those were the first two parks I played in. I just thought they were great because I was playing pro baseball so I was just excited to be playing at the time. But looking back, those were probably the two toughest parks, just because they were the oldest.
Me: What ballpark is your favorite to play in throughout the majors and why (not including the Rangers)?
Michael: My favorite ballpark is Fenway Park in Boston for a lot of reasons. The fans are just really intense and enthusiastic and they have a lot of energy and passion for the game. Obviously there’s a ton of history in that ballpark. That park’s been there for almost a hundred years. It’s old and it’s beat up and it’s run down, but the people still make it really exciting to play there. And the Red Sox are always a really good team so there are really competitive games every time I play there. I think it’s a fun place to play just because of the history.
Me: I went there a few years ago and it was really cool.
Michael: Yeah, I’m sure it’s a great place to watch a game too.
Me: What sports did you play growing up and which were you best at?
Michael: Growing up, I played all the sports that most kids play. I played baseball, my first love. I played basketball, I played football, I played soccer. I would say that basketball was my second favorite sport. When I got to high school, I was playing a ton of baseball at the time and I was hoping to play baseball and basketball. Basketball didn’t work out as well as I thought it would. I played baseball pretty much year-round by the time I got into high school. I still love all sports. I love watching football and basketball on TV and obviously I’m a baseball junky.
Me: What was your favorite team growing up and why?
Michael: My favorite baseball team was the New York Mets. I was growing up in LA and I think I was the only Mets fan out there. Everyone was a huge Dodgers fan in LA. By the time I really started to love baseball, I was around 8, 9, 10 years old. By the time I was 8 years old, I already knew how to fish around the sports page, look at every box score. And right when I was around 8 years old is when Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were just getting to the Mets and they generated just tons of excitement. The Mets were really starting to become a fun team to watch so I kind of just gravitated towards them. And that was the team I loved actually until I signed. I was still a huge Mets fan.
Me: What was it about the Dodgers that made you not want for them to be your favorite team?
Michael: I still like the Dodgers too. I love the Dodgers. I used to go to Dodger games all the time. Loved to go to Dodgers games. The Mets were just my favorite. The Dodgers were in second but the Mets were my favorite.
Me: What is the toughest thing about major league life and why?
Michael: The toughest thing about major league life is the travel because I have a family. I have a wife and a little boy and I miss them when I’m gone. We have a six month season so for three months, I’m in a hotel somewhere else. That’s a lot of time away from my family. That’s by far the most difficult part about playing in the major leagues.
Me: Do they go with you sometimes and if so, how often?
Michael: Yeah, they do, they travel. Every now and then, we’ll pick a couple of cities. It depends on how my son’s school schedule works out. We set some time aside where they can come on a trip and we can have some fun and relax. Usually it’s at a place where they have a swimming pool at the hotel and the weather’s going to be nice. We try to plan it around those kinds of things.
Me: What was the worst injury you’ve ever had and why?
Michael: The worst injury I’ve ever had was probably last year when I broke two fingers during the season. It’s one thing to break one but I broke two. That was difficult. I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve been really, really lucky to not have any serious injuries. I haven’t spent one day on the disabled list so I’m really lucky to have stayed away from that. I’ve been really lucky never to have had any serious injuries so, as far as my career goes, that’s probably the one thing I’ve been the most happy with.
Me: I would consider breaking two fingers pretty serious.
Michael: Yeah but it didn’t cost me any time on the disabled list. It wasn’t bad enough that I had to really miss any time. It hurt to play but I knew it wasn’t going to be a situation where I had to miss any games. I didn’t miss many games at all. I still played I think 155 games last year and I was really happy with that, considering that I did have two broken fingers for four months out of the year.
Me: Thanks again for doing the interview.
Michael: Alright. You’re welcome.
I would like to thank Michael and Mrs. Young once again for being so nice about this whole interview and making it happen. I really appreciate the time they gave me.
Come back next week for my May Awards.