Holding all the cards
Dmitri Young shares his love for the game and card collecting with Museum visitors
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – It has often been said that it's like a baseball card collection coming to life when one attends an event at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. But former big leaguer Dmitri Young added a twist to this on Monday.
A day after Young, a father of three, had a Father's Day to remember when he not only captured the Legends Hitting Contest crown but also the first Bob Feller Player of the Game Award at the third annual Hall of Fame Classic, he enthralled a capacity crowd inside the Hall of Fame's Bullpen Theater with stories from his long career in the game.
A baseball card collector in his youth, Young has over the last dozen years or so began a quest of accumulating high-grade rookie cards of the greatest players the sport has ever seen. Today, his hundreds of cardboard memories include everyone from Stan Musial, Roy Campanella and Hank Aaron to Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose and Mike Piazza.
"I was about seven years old when I started getting Topps cards. You could go to a local convenience store and get a pack for 35 cents. Once I went to Detroit and got a four-year deal," Young said while happily clapping, "I wound up getting some very, very important cards for my collection.
"The main thing I'm doing now is promoting collecting. For me, I enjoy it. It gives me something to do when I'm not playing or coaching. My sons, they're not really interested in it yet, but I keep shoving it in their faces."
Young has images of his rookie cards collected in a book, which he handed off to the audience to pass around. But the crowd saw more than a card collection belonging to a 14-year veteran of the big leagues, they also saw a fan with a lifelong love affair with the national pastime.
"When I was growing up in the early 1980s, I had a Baseball Encyclopedia about this thick," said Young, holding his two hands about six inches apart. "I watched the Game of the Week on NBC, watched the Atlanta Braves on WTBS, watched the Mets on WOR, and watched the Cubs on WGN. I was a big fan.
"I got to the point where I started drawing myself on an All-Rookie card," he added with a grin. "I was always doing something about baseball, which I fell in love with. And the love affair is always going to be there."
As for his lasting memories from participating in his first Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, Young said it was the brotherhood of every major league player that participated, "whether it was a Hall of Famer or a guy who just had a cup of coffee. We all joined together to have a good time for the fans. I hope we put on a great show for you guys because it was from the heart."
Young, who topped off his Classic with an important three-run home run, also was poignant when referring Feller, the Hall of Fame legend who passed away in December at the age of 92.
"The one thing I wanted to say about being the first recipient of the Bob Feller Award was I was more than honored," Young said. "I was born a Navy brat, so what Bob Feller did not only in the game of baseball but for our country, going to serve during the prime of his career, speaks volumes. And I hold that very high in my heart. Once the award is engraved, it's going to be up on my mantle."
As for Young's ever-present smile, which was on display throughout his stay in Cooperstown, he explained it can all be traced back to an exchange with former star shortstop Barry Larkin.
"Barry Larkin pulled me aside when I got traded over from the Cardinals to the Reds in 1998," Young said. "And I had a chip on my shoulder – nobody likes to get traded – so I'm taking ground balls, not smiling at all.
"Barry Larkin sees this for a couple days, pulls me aside, and goes, 'Hey Big Dog, why aren't you smiling?' I told him I was just trying to make the team. Then he said, 'We see you're working hard, but you've got to have fun out here. I was making the league minimum. He said, 'If you don't start smiling, and I know you're not making any money yet, but you're not going to make any either because I'm going to start fining you.'"
Young ended the story with a big smile on his face as the Bullpen Theater erupted with laughter and applause.
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum