Sunday, March 07, 1999
OF tutor helps Young
BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SARASOTA, Fla. Though a nutritious, balanced breakfast might be the best way to start a day, Dmitri Young's morning routine also has its merits.
Young and minor-league coach Dave Collins have met at 9 every morning this spring for a half-hour tutorial on playing outfield. They work exhaustively on basics as well as subtleties.
The goal is to erase or at least minimize Young's defensive shortcomings, which were evident during his otherwise fine 1998 season. The difference already is plain.
Young hasn't been required to try any difficult plays, but he has kept the routine ones from becoming adventuresome. The improvement suggests that Young's switch from left to right field to accommodate Greg Vaughn just might proceed smoothly.
It's just a matter of repetition, Young said Saturday before the Reds' 6-4 exhibition victory over the Boston Red Sox. I never had a problem with the outfield; I just have to get my work in. That's the misconception everybody has. Everybody thinks I'm a newcomer to the outfield, but I've been playing it my whole professional career.
Young couldn't develop as an outfielder as he rose through the farm system of the St. Louis Cardinals, who shuttled him between first base, third base and left field. He played mostly first base and left last season (he also had 12 starts in right) before Sean Casey's emergence allowed him to concentrate on the outfield.
Young needed this focus after committing 10 errors and recording a woeful .940 fielding percentage last year. Those struggles didn't affect him at the plate, considering his .310 average, 48 doubles and 83 RBI.
It's just like anything else. For regular folks, going from one job description to the next, there's going to be an adjustment you have to make. But you're going to make it, Young said. I'm not going to be a Gold Glove winner the first year. But I'm making strides to be that.
Coming from a lot of other players, this would be just empty talk. But Young's deeds exceed his words, if anything.
He practices everything imaginable with Collins, who played for the Reds and seven other teams in a 15-year major-league career. Collins drills Young on balls hit to either side, in front of him and over his head. Footwork is also covered. Often, Collins makes Young turn the wrong way for a ball, forcing him to concentrate on relocating it.
One thing I try to emphasize to Dmitri is getting comfortable taking his eyes off the ball and going to where he thinks the ball is hit, because that's the only way you can cover ground, said Collins, whose primary duty is coordinating minor-league baserunning instruction. It stops you from drifting on balls.
One of baseball's axioms is that position players can successfully move to positions toward the outfield. Numerous players bounce between first base and the outfield.
But Collins ridiculed the notion of using the outfield as a dumping ground for awkward defenders.
That's the worst thing you can ever say, because that means anybody can play out there, Collins said. A lot of people don't understand that outfield is not easy.
Young should make it look easy more often. Reds manager Jack McKeon recalled several accomplished players, such as Tony Gwynn, Graig Nettles and Wade Boggs, who overcame glaring deficiencies early in their careers to become good defensive players.
Dmitri wants to be good, McKeon said. He'll make himself a good right fielder in time.
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