CHICAGO – So this is how it’s going to be. Because sins seem forgiven not upon apology but only at the moment something more noteworthy occurs, until Delmon Young does something spectacular on the baseball field, he is going to be scrutinized and psychoanalyzed, prodded, poked and provoked, and, as was the case with the first pitch he saw in his big-league career Tuesday night, attacked.
And for what, exactly?
Sure, if the only colors on the palette are black and white. What Young, baseball’s top prospect and the newly minted Tampa Bay Devil Rays right fielder – or, as cynics may prefer, the moron who in Triple-A flung a bat that whacked an umpire, got suspended for 50 games, then had the gall to question in USA Today why he was still toiling in the minor leagues – can plead guilty to is being a stupid 20-year-old.
The beauty of being young and stupid is the implicit acknowledgement of ignorance, a defense every 20-year-old enlists at least a thousand times. Surely Young knew what he did was wrong, though in both cases he lacked the foresight to see the consequences. Whereas another could plead ignorance, the price at which such a security blanket disappears seems to be for sale, and the Devil Rays happened to lavish Young with $5.8 million coming out of high school.
And as such, here Delmon Young landed Tuesday, sitting in the Devil Rays’ clubhouse at 3:30 p.m. and listening to his iPod for 30 minutes by himself before being lulled from his haze to proceed to the dugout, where 20 media members awaited, hands presumably poised on cans of mace. You know, just in case.
A good 90 percent of the questions centered on “the situation,” “the ordeal,” “the incident” and “what happened to you,” all pussyfooting ways of saying, “That time you got called out on strikes, weren’t happy and launched a 32-ounce wooden projectile at a scab umpire.” Never mind that it happened more than four months ago, or that Young has apologized in some fashion a few thousand times since, or that he fulfilled his required 50 hours community service and enjoyed it instead of complaining.
Apparently, none of that is good enough to quash the rewording of the same question in a dozen pretty packages. Mistakes must equal learning some kind of a lesson, and learning lessons must equal changing, as if change is some kind of permanent fix-all, and if Young hasn’t changed – he told USA Today, “I don’t know what they’re waiting for,” in reference to recalling him, B.J. Upton (who is with the Devil Rays) and troubled Triple-A outfielder Elijah Dukes, words on which he quickly backtracked during the interview – well, he mustn’t be rehabilitated, or whatever the ravenous seek from him.
“No, I’m exactly the same,” Young said Tuesday. “You can’t let everything change what you do. You can alter them. But you can’t spin to do them opposite.”
It was a nugget of wisdom among an avalanche of the staid answers Young must proffer, so as not to stir up any more controversy. He backed himself into a corner and now finds himself pinned there, the villain who knew no better.
Why, look at his first at-bat. Young stepped into the batter’s box an inning after he got caught on the right-field wall and couldn’t jump, allowing a Jermaine Dye fly ball that might have been caught to bounce over the fence. He wanted to be like Dye, one of his heroes growing up and one of 94 players to hit a home run in his first major-league at-bat.
First, Garcia said: “I don’t know that kid.”
Then, he said: “I don’t pay attention to all that stuff,” and by that, he presumably meant the hullabaloo surrounding Young, in which case he obviously knew him, obviously knew the disrespect Young had shown and obviously thought he had ample reason to welcome him to the big leagues with the on-field equivalent of a middle finger.
What happened after that portends well for Young. His teammates, understandably miffed by what happened, got livid. They yelled at Garcia from the dugout as Young trotted, calm and composed as a politician, to first base.
“I said those stupid things in the paper and wouldn’t really expect the guys to be behind me so quick,” Young said. “They know I wasn’t viciously out to get them or anything. It was a stupid mistake by myself.”
In his second official at-bat, Young hammered a hanging breaking ball 356 feet into the White Sox bullpen for his first major-league home run. His next time up, Young muscled an inside fastball into right field for a single. He resembled Albert Belle, the player to which Young has often been compared.
Prior to this season, it was Albert Belle without the issues. Post-bat throw, it’s Albert Belle, period.
“Delmon knows a lot of it has been self-inflicted, and he knows what he has to do to rectify it in the future,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s been remorseful. And he’s going to move on.”
“What he did was terrible,” said Carl Crawford, the Devil Rays’ left fielder and most tenured player. “He’s ready to deal with that. He’s taken his lumps.”
If only it were that easy. Young will take plenty more lumps along the way. Every time he patrols right field, fans ask if he’s going to throw a bat at them. Even though his teammates stuck up for Young when Garcia hit him – reliever Ruddy Lugo retaliated by plunking A.J. Pierzynski – they still have lingering feelings, ones that Upton quickly abated with an apology upon his recall.
Young said he would do the same soon.
“Still waiting,” Crawford said after the game. “At some point it would be nice.”
Hopefully, Young will offer a mea culpa. He needs all the good will he can muster, genuine or not. Maybe he will even learn a thing or two without every essence of his being boiled down to youthful stupidity.
So long as people let him.
- Delmon Young