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Wednesday, May 2, 2012
For Dmitri Young, it's all in the cards

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

There are dozens of baseball cards from Dmitri Young's career, but his rookie cards were truly one of a kind. "When I was growing up," he said, "I used to draw myself on the Donruss-rated rookie and the Topps 'future star' cards with the trophies and the cup."

Young eventually appeared for real on actual "Future Star" and "Top Prospect" cards, including this 1993 Upper Deck card when he was a prospect in the Cardinals system. He hates it so much that he refuses to autograph the card for fans.

Dmitri Young
Smile for the camera, Dmitri!

"Oh my God, I was so upset [with it]," he said. "I had some nice, decent cards up to that point but in 1993. … With the 'Boyz n the Hood' and all the black movies back then, we were trying to look hard instead of smiling. I was taking those kinds of pictures. But a couple of my teammates, Terry Bradshaw and Keith Jones, started making jokes and I started laughing. And then 'Snap! Snap! Snap!'

"I will not sign that card. I refuse to sign that card. And the reason is this was pre-braces and I had this big Michael Strahan, you-can-park-a-car-between the gap in my teeth. … That's the red-haired step-child card for me."

Sadly, you will not find that card in the extraordinary collection Young is selling off this month through SCP Auctions. You will, on the other hand, find extremely rare Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) 10 Gem Mint condition rookie cards of Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and hundreds of others in a collection Young estimates is worth $2.5 million. The online auction runs through May 18.

"The total is around 500 cards, all PSA 10 rookies, dating back to a 1948 Stan Musial [Bowman card] all the way up to the 2000s," Young said of his collection. "I have Hall of Famers, I have legendary players, I have great regional players and I have something dear to my heart, the people I've crossed paths with during my playing days who had a positive influence on my development as a player and a person."

You don't meet a lot of major leaguers who still collect baseball cards, but Young got started while growing up in Virginia Beach and he never lost his passion. "I dove in headfirst into the deep end of the swimming pool with baseball," said Young, who hit .292 with 171 home runs and two All-Star selections during his 13-year career. "I was ingrained with Baseball Digest, the Baseball Encyclopedia, and what better way to learn the players than the baseball cards?"

The Tidewater Tides were the Mets' Triple-A team in those days and Young became a big fan of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry when they played there. Getting their rookie cards is what kick-started his interest in collecting rookie cards in general.

"And when I signed my big league contract, I started going to different card shops and buying various rookie cards," he said. "In 2000, when I was in Cincinnati, I did a card show with Danny Graves and instead of a cash payoff, I wanted a Pete Rose rookie card. That's what I wanted, a Pete Rose rookie card. We were in Cincinnati so it was only fitting that I have the all-time hit king. The payoff was a PSA 8 Pete Rose rookie card that was worth about $2,000."

Young needed a hobby in the offseason, so he began researching the PSA grading service. He soon started buying up rookie cards rated PSA 8, then PSA 9s and finally PSA 10s. A card rated PSA 10 Gem is the rarest of all, a card in such immaculate condition it not only never came close to a bicycle spoke, it's like it was never even touched by human hands.

He said his two favorites are the Aaron and Willie Horton rookie cards. Aaron was his favorite player growing up, and Horton "was like a grandfather figure for me when I was in Detroit and when I went through my bad times. He was one of the few people who kept in contact with me and told me that it's not the mistakes a man makes, what makes a man is how he comes back from his mistakes."

He says one of the main reasons he's selling his cards is to use proceeds to fund the Dmitri D. Young foundation he just started. The foundation's aim, he says, is to help underprivileged kids in the Ventura County, Calif., area play baseball by offering MLB-style instruction, equipment, funding for travel teams and life instruction. He says it is time to give back to the community.

A second reason Young is selling his collection, of course, involves a woman. He's getting married soon, and you know spouses are responsible for the breakup of nearly as many card collections as mothers.

"When I knew I was going to be with this woman forever, the need for the cards was no longer there," Young said. "The cards were with me in my toughest times, during my comeback. And now with part two of my life, I feel like I've done my duty as owner of the card collection and it's for many, many collectors to own a piece of what I've built."

CSI: Box Score

You know the drill. Each week I provide a fragment of an old box score and challenge you to determine what game it is from and why it's significant. I give this one a difficulty rating of 4. Answer below.

boxscore

Baseball Card of the Week

Young may not like his 1993 Upper Deck card, but he probably isn't too fond of this one, either (2000 Ultra No. 21). You can almost feel the earth shake on this headfirst slide (and nice hair color, too).

Dmitir Young
Da Meat Hook, in action.

"I had some pretty bad cards when I was overweight," Young admitted. "I had some pretty bad pictures where it was like, 'Skinny Dmitri, Fat Dmitri.' I'd be like, 'Man, that's the best picture Topps could find for this card? This is the best picture? Look at that belly, I can't even see my belt!"'

Fortunately, Dmitri has overcome his weight issues, dropping more than 70 pounds in the last year and getting himself back in such good shape he can fit into his high school letterman's jacket again. "And I don't mean I can [barely squeeze] into it but not button it up, I mean I can fit in it and button it up to the top with plenty of room to spare," he said. "It's like, Good God almighty. Look at me now! It's been a hell of a transition from being overweight my entire career to actually being in shape and keeping it off and being healthy and having Type 2 diabetes under control."

He says teaching proper nutrition is another goal of his foundation.

Box-Score Line of the Week

Philip Humber followed up his perfect game with a very imperfect start, walking the first batter and eventually allowing a career-high nine runs (5 IP, 8 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, 5 K).

New York's Scott Hairston hit for the cycle Friday (5 AB, 3 R, 4 H, 4 RBIs, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR) but the Mets lost by nine runs anyway.

Texas starter Matt Harrison threw a 14-hitter (5 IP, 14 H, 7 R, 6ER, 1 BB, 3 K), while Miami's Anibal Sanchez struck out 14 (7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 14 K). And Miami closer Heath Bell had another meltdown (2/3 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 0 K).

Ryan Cook
Cook

But this week's award goes to Oakland reliever Ryan Cook, who pitched one inning Friday night yet still struck out four batters (all swinging) because one batter reached first on a wild pitch. His head-scratching line:

1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

Yeah, Well, That's Just Like Your Opinion, Man

Although Tigers fans will miss that extra series against the Pirates: A welcome recent development is the speculation that baseball will trim the "rivalry" series next season when the Astros' move to the American League will necessitate an interleague game almost every day. Rivalry series are great for the Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, Giants-Athletics and Dodgers-Angels, but they do nothing for unnatural rivals such as the Padres and Mariners, whose fans simply do not look eagerly forward to home-and-home series pitting bitter enemies like Cameron Maybin and Jason Vargas against each other. Perhaps by cutting down the rivalry series for the haves, baseball can come up with more appealing matchups for the have-nots.

On the other hand, a wrecking ball would be welcome in Tampa Bay: A number of readers who commented on last week's Tiger Stadium column said that while they missed the old ballpark, there was no point getting worked up about the 100th anniversary of a stadium that no longer exists. Well, the stadium structure may be gone, but the field is still there. And it would be nice if from an operating budget well over $100 million, the Tigers found a couple of thousand dollars to help preserve the old field for their fans. I would love to circle the bases where Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds once stood, but I can't. No one can because those fields are long gone. We're lucky the Tiger Stadium field is still there. We should cherish history, not abandon it. But as one person said, it isn't surprising that Tigers owner Mike Ilitch hasn't helped maintain the old stadium given that he barely maintained it when the team still played there.

Sir Sidney Ponson wasn't a member of the House of Lords, either: My friend Scooter sent me a great trivia question this week: Are the following members of Parliament or major league pitchers? Collin Balester, Graham Godfrey, Everett Teaford, Liam Hendriks and Kenley Jansen. They're all pitchers, of course, though as Scooter says, Everett Teaford sounds like he should be hosting "Antiques Roadshow."

CSI: Box-Score Answer

There were only two important clues in this one. The first is that Los Angeles is the home team. The other is the attendance: an astounding 115,300. This fragment, then, is from the game that drew the biggest crowd in major league history -- an exhibition game the Dodgers played against the Red Sox at the LA Coliseum just before the 2008 regular season began. After the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn, they played their first couple of seasons in the Coliseum until Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.