- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO

On a sunny February morning in Viera, Fla., Dmitri Young stood outside the Washington Nationals’ minor league clubhouse. He was overweight. His hair was a mess. He wore a tight, orange “Sanford and Son” T-shirt.

The last thing he looked like was a major league ballplayer, let alone an All-Star.

As he recalled that scene yesterday from his podium inside a San Francisco hotel ballroom, surrounded by his fellow National League All-Stars, Young couldn’t help but laugh a bit as he thought about how far he has come.

“All I could do was try,” he said.

Young’s inspiring story of redemption made him one of the stars of yesterday’s All-Star interview room. Sure, Barry Bonds commanded the most attention, as everyone expected he would. But few other players were as sought after as the Nationals’ first baseman, who understands why his story has resonated with so many people.

“I didn’t quit,” he said. “Good people don’t quit. Champions don’t quit.”

But he nearly did. Turn the clock back to late November 2006, when Young — having already endured a season of personal torture, including domestic assault charges and a 30-day stint in an alcohol rehab center — was rushed to a South Florida emergency room because he was dizzy, couldn’t stop vomiting and was losing his vision.

Doctors discovered Young had Type 2 diabetes, and his blood sugar level had risen to an astronomical 893. He was awake and coherent, but technically he was in a diabetic coma. Thirty more minutes, Young said, and he believes he would have been dead.

“I felt like I could have gone at any moment,” he said.

Over time, Young got his diabetes under control. He was up and walking again two weeks later. He started taking insulin shots every day, diligently watched what he ate and by January he felt “like normal” again.

What he didn’t feel like doing was playing baseball. He was ready to give up the only game he has ever loved, hop in an RV and follow his younger brother Delmon (an outfielder with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) around.

Even when Nationals general manager Jim Bowden called with an offer to come to the club’s minor league camp, Young was reluctant to accept. But his closest family members — father Larry, Delmon, sons Owen and Damon, daughter Layla and ex-wife Rebecca — convinced him to give it one more shot.

Young couldn’t say no to the people he cares about most.

“Everything that went on, they were the ones that were behind me the whole time,” he said. “When I was doubting myself, they were all pushing me to do it.”

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