Bees’ outfielder Young has heavy heart - Albuquerque Journal

Bees’ outfielder Young has heavy heart

For better and for worse, Eric Young Jr. will never forget 2017.

The better part has come largely on baseball diamonds, where Young has helped two teams — the Los Angeles Angels and Salt Lake Bees — battle for postseason berths. Young and the Bees played the third game of a key series against the host Albuquerque Isotopes on Saturday night.

He went 2-for-5 and drove in the go-ahead run as Salt Lake took a 6-4 victory in front of an announced 11,012 fans at Isotopes Park.

By any measure, the 32-year-old outfielder has put together a good season. For Salt Lake, he went into Saturday night’s game hitting .304 with eight homers, 51 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. For the parent Angels, Young hit .260 with three homers, 11 RBIs and eight steals as an injury replacement for superstar Mike Trout.

“It’s been enjoyable,” Young said prior to Saturday’s batting practice. “I’ve been able to have success on the field and that’s been good for myself and my family, especially considering what’s happened off the field.”

In that regard, 2017 started on a terrible note for Young and his wife, Victoria. In January the couple’s first child, a son named Eric Young III (nicknamed Trey), was born 11 weeks premature. He lived only a few hours.

The Youngs were emotionally shattered.

“There were some dark days,” Young said, “and I still have some tough moments. My wife carried him for all those months, though. She had it tougher than I did.”

Still, the loss weighed on Young as he prepared for his first season with the Angels organization. The son of longtime major leaguer Eric Young Sr. has played for six organizations since making his debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2009.

Isotopes manager Glenallen Hill, a former teammate of Young Sr. who later coached Young Jr. for three years with the Rockies, knew Young Jr. would need a coping strategy.

“EY doesn’t show a lot of emotion,” Hill said. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like losing a child, but I knew he’d have to find some way to process it before he could move forward.”

Young came up with a way to manage his grief while honoring his infant son. Step one was to open up.

“I didn’t want people tip-toeing around me,” Young said, “and I didn’t want to be a time bomb that exploded on somebody who didn’t deserve it. At spring training I just stood up in front of the whole team and told them everything I was going through.”

Young said the talk proved “therapeutic,” and not only for him. He has since found teammates, past and present, and even opposing players to be much more forthcoming about their lives.

“I think everyone is going through something,” Young said. “Since I shared my story, people have told me about some tough situations. Sometimes it just helps to get things off your chest.”

Said Hill, “He made something positive out of an awful situation. To me, that’s an amazing thing.”

Young also came up with a fitting on-field tribute for Trey. He extends three fingers skyward — and not just after his relatively rare home runs.

“I do it after every hit, every walk, even when I’m having a bad game,” Young said. “I tell myself to remember it’s a game, have fun and be sure to honor my son.”

Young, who’s been playing with Salt Lake since Trout returned from injury, admits he has high hopes for the rest of 2017.

“Perfect ending?” he said. “Go back up in September, win multiple championships and maybe get invited back for next year. That would be pretty sweet.”

Young wouldn’t mind extending his fingers skyward after another home run or two either, but it’s not a real priority. After all, he hadn’t hit a major league homer since 2014 when this season started. In 2017 he has exactly three.

“I’m not going to say that’s a coincidence either,” Young said with a smile. “I don’t believe in coincidences. If I end up with three in the big leagues this year, that’s a cool scenario.”

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