BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Dmitri Young is holding on to his hat. He might trade it in for a new model, but then he'd lose the proof of his perspiration.
Young is slowly sweating the red dye out of his Reds cap. Large patches of pink have emerged on each side of the wishbone C. If Young isn't careful, he may soon look more like a Mary Kay cosmetics salesman than a switch-hitting slugger.
This is a risk Young is willing to take. He is one ballplayer who has never been afraid of hard work, or its residue.
"That's from my dad," Young said. "He was a Navy pilot, flew F-14s, and he always had a great work ethic. When he got transferred to Montgomery, Ala., we could have had a bigger house, but we lived on the base because there was a batting cage."
The young Dmitri Young was too large to play football with kids his own age, and not nifty enough to make it big in basketball. But when Larry Young saw what his son could do to a baseball, he recognized a rare gift.
"I made the commitment to play when I was 9, and I was switch-hitting when I was 10," Young said before the Reds' 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night. "My dad saw my talent before I did."
Now, that talent should be obvious to all. Dmitri Young faced the mighty Greg Maddux for the first time Monday night, and had three hits in four at-bats. Tuesday, he went 1-for-4, and his batting average slipped to .336.
Displaced last season by the deal that made Mark McGwire the St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman, Young has resurfaced in Cincinnati as the fellow who forces Jack McKeon to juggle his lineup.
He has started 14 games at first base, 12 in right field and has lately been encroaching on Chris Stynes' left-field territory. Asked to identify his preferred defensive position, Young replied: "Left, right or first."
"Right now, it looks like he's going to be an outfielder," McKeon said. "But as long as he's doing the job with the bat, you've got to find a place for him."
Seizing his opportunity
Young joined the Reds last November in one of Jim Bowden's mandated economy moves. The Reds sent Jeff Brantley to St. Louis for a fellow they figured as a fourth outfielder and a backup first baseman. But when Jon Nunnally and Eduardo Perez staggered out of the starting blocks, Young seized his chance with a stranglehold.
Seven years after the Cardinals made him the fourth selection in the amateur draft -- ahead of such hitting prospects as Manny Ramirez, Cliff Floyd and Perez -- Dmitri Young may finally have found his niche. His fourth-inning double Tuesday night was his 14th of the year, matching his total output last season with the Cardinals.
"I was around a lot of veterans last year in St. Louis," Young said. "And (manager) Tony LaRussa had that "Win now' mentality. Willie McGee and Brian Jordan used to tell me, "When you get your opportunity you've got to take advantage of it.' "
Whatever else might be said of the 1998 Reds, they should lead the league in opportunities. This is a ballclub building for a stadium that has yet to be designed. It is all about letting kids learn under major-league conditions. Those who succeed are those who may still be around when the Reds are ready to compete.
Living the dream
Dmitri Young is 24 years old, with room to grow.
"It's an awesome feeling," he said, lingering behind home plate as the Braves started batting practice. "It's something you dream about when you're a kid. Getting the chance to play every day and establish myself -- there's not a better feeling professionally."
He took up his hat, bright pink above the brim, and held it up for the inspection of the ground crew.
"Should I keep it?" he asked.
They all nodded.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivanenquirer.com