Saturday, July 4, 2009

The plight of the underdog

Everyone loves an underdog. Especially me. As a fan of Minnesota sports, I've become accustomed to spouting phrases like "we never get respect" or "no one believes in us". This mentality has worked to galvanize the Minnesota Twins fan base in such a way that we pool our dreams together and hope it'll be enough - with some good ol' fashioned talent and scrappiness - to win. But I'm not talking about a franchise today, I'm talking about a player named Delmon Young and his winding path toward relevance.

Ever since he was a young kid, baseball has been easy for Young. Take this excerpt from a 2003 USA Today article as proof:

"Young, 17, hit .544 with seven home runs and 28 RBI and was intentionally walked 26 times this season for Camarillo High School. Young, 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, has starred at the high school level for several years and shown great power potential and patience at the plate, an outstanding arm and good speed."
He then went to Tampa Bay's minor league system and thrashed A, AA and AAA pitching for the first two seasons (2004-05), posting a ridiculous 51 home runs, 53 steals and 214 RBI with a .318/.368/.533 batting line. Clearly, the kid was ready for a bigger challenge, and in 2006, Delmon got his shot at the major leagues.

The results have been mixed since hit insertion in the Tampa Bay lineup. Young's famed plate discipline has yet to materialize, evidenced by a career major league 67:288 BB/K ratio. He's seemed to swing and miss extremely often, and is currently going through his worst year as a baseball player with just three home runs and a sickly .264/.292/.346 batting line. Years of lofty expectations have caught up with Young, and people are getting impatient. He's finally become an underdog.

Tack on his dubious bat-throwing incident, along with the infamous Garza/Bartlett swap that landed Young in Minnesota, and even the biggest Twins fans have found reason to throw him under the bus.

This isn't a hopeless situation though - Young has a history of meteoric rises in the second half of the baseball season. "DY" batted .300/.344/.435 in the second half in 2008 with 8 homers. In 2007, he cranked out a .302/.326/.405 line. And since June 9 this season (15 games), he's scorched MLB pitching to the tune of a .322/.328/.503 line with two home runs and 10 RBI. Up to that point (36 games, April 6-June 8), he had only managed a meager .236/.275/.268 with one home run and 14 RBI.

There's a lot of talent in Young's bat, and maybe - just maybe - he'll begin to realize his potential in front of a fan base who understands how to embrace even the least-talented (Mark Madsen), moronic (Randy Moss, Fred Smoot), and disrespectful (Latrell Sprewell) athletes.

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