MLB.com Columnist

Matthew Leach

Healthier, happier Dmitri content with his future

Leach: Healthier, happier Dmitri content with his future

Healthier, happier Dmitri content with his future
Dmitri Young's baseball comeback may be over before it ever got started, and it doesn't seem to bother him one bit. His personal comeback is going strong, and that's what matters most to the two-time All-Star.

Young, who spent the better part of 13 seasons spraying line drives around Major League ballparks, sounds resigned to the possibility that he won't get a real chance with a team this spring. He's been working out in hopes of landing one more shot, almost four years after he last played in the bigs. But if it doesn't happen, Young won't lose any sleep.

A man who once carried 300 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame is down to 225. He has his Type 2 diabetes under control. He's happy, healthy and he's inspiring people just by living his life.

"If I don't ever put on another Major League uniform, I still won," Young said. "I won because of my health. I was looking to lose weight so I can control the diabetes, and I accomplished that."

One person inspired by Young -- and probably the person most frustrated by Young's inability to land a Spring Training invitation -- is Robert Fick. A former teammate of Young's and an employee of Paragon Sports International, which represents Young, Fick is pulling hard for a man who is one of his best friends.

While Young is taking things in stride, Fick is taking the process personally.

"He's just worked really hard," Fick said. "He's been through a lot ... I don't judge somebody. I judge them on what they do after they [make mistakes], you know? He didn't necessarily [make mistakes], but he wasn't a healthy person. He wasn't living the right lifestyle. He cleaned it all up. I'm just really proud of him."

Teammates with the Nationals and before that with the Tigers, Young and Fick have been through a great deal together. Young helped Fick through some tough times, and Fick treasures the opportunity to help out Young these days.

"We just don't have to [lie to] each other, you know what I mean?" Fick said. "It's just real friendship. We've just been there for each other when, I don't want to call it rock bottom, but when you're down in the dumps and [things] ain't going your way."

Young spoke from his home in California, having returned west after spending time in Florida working out for teams. The Pirates passed, and a look with the Phillies didn't lead to an offer, either.

"I talked to him, encouraged him that if he's still got the heartbeat to continue on with it," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Our problem was we had already added people at that position who were promised things we felt we needed to stay committed to.

"[Rekindled love of the game] was part of it. Also, he'd gotten himself in a completely different physical shape, and I think he just wanted to see where that could take him. I give him a lot of credit, to have the commitment to go to Venezuela just to see whether the speed of game told him it was over. And I don't think he got that feeling at all. There still could be an opportunity for him to find his way back."

Young may well be without a baseball job for the new season. That's OK with him.

He's already made the hard part of his journey. After seeing his mother pass away in 2009, and seeing a close business associate deal with complications of being seriously overweight, Young realized that he needed to make some changes.

So he got after it. He worked on portion control and moved to smaller, more frequent meals. He started getting serious about exercise. And he started losing weight.

"It was one of those things where I was more scared to go to the doctor to hear what he had to say, vs. going to the doctor to get myself right," Young said. "When I went to the doctor, it came down to just saying, 'Bite the bullet, go to the doctor and see what he has to say and chew on that.'

"I found out I wasn't in as bad shape as all of that; it was just a matter of getting it together. ... That was the end of January -- Jan. 29 of 2011. At that time, I was 298 [pounds]."

Now, Young's proud to report that he's at 225. He lost the weight for his health, not for baseball. But after his showing at an alumni game last year, friends began to prod him to think about giving it one more go. He started tailoring his work more toward baseball.

"He looks like a whole different dude," Fick said. "People don't recognize him. He's littler and he's stronger and he's faster. He's still got it. You can't judge anybody till you've seen them get 40, 50 at-bats, but... He's just a different dude. He's the same old Dmitri with a different body, and he's a lot wiser. He's just really going to help a ballclub out, on the field and off the field. He's that veteran that I think every team needs."

What may be most remarkable about Young is what he was able to do before he slimmed down. As late as 2007, Young batted .320 with a .491 slugging percentage for the Nationals, all the while weighing not much less than his batting average. He's philosophical about that too, though.

"The way that everything came up now, I can tell people how I did it, and people can have hope," Young said. "I played an entire baseball career, most of it overweight, and toward the end, vastly overweight. And now I'm at 225, and it took a long time to get to this point.

"I believe people really do want to look better and they don't have an outlet. They don't know how. The thing that I did, I figured it out. I know how. And that's how I won, right there. Whether I put on another uniform again or not, I can wear my high school letterman jacket. There aren't too many people who are saying that, except for people who just graduated high school."

So however this latest quest turns out, Young is happy. Life is treating him well.

"Like I said," he laughs, "I won."

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.