The battle for first base in the Washington Nationals' camp was one of the top stories on every DC baseball fan's mind heading into Spring Training '08. Would Nick Johnson be able to fully recover from his broken right femur? Even if Johnson was healthy, was there any way he could supplant last season's MLB Comeback Player of the Year Dmitri Young and his .320 AVG from '07? How did DY's commitment to guiding the team's young stars factor into the equation? Would one of the two be traded before the season began? Would either accept a bench role if they lost the position to the other?
Until yesterday's revelations about the nature of DY's health/conditioning this Spring, the readers here at federalbaseball.com were deadlocked after 82 votes. A clear 50/50 split amongst the fan base about who was better suited for the starting spot at first. Today, the voting shifted noticeably with the answer to the question...
If the Nationals Were To Trade A First Baseman...Who Should It Be?
...now standing at 52% preferring DY be traded to 47% in favor of Nick Johnson's being moved.
I'll admit to believing the Nationals were better off with Nick Johnson at first, though I am and always have been a HUGE fan of Dmitri Young's, but I didn't want it decided this way...
The reason for the sudden shift in voting may lie in an article out of the Nationals' Spring home of Viera, Florida, in which it's reported that Dmitri Young's conditioning upon arrival at camp has alarmed and apparently even "disappointed" some in the organization.
As Washington Post baseball writer Barry Svrluga's article entitled, "For Young, Job Fight Least of His Battles" which was subtitled, "First Baseman Trying to Cope With Diabetes", recounts...DY reported to camp at 298 lbs, and was injured swinging a bat, leading Mr. Svrluga to write that he (DY), "...understood that it is easy to draw conclusions about how he looks," though the main culprit may in fact be Young's medical condition.
Mr. Svrluga writes:
"Because Young's weight has not gone down -- even though he said he has "learned to eat the right kinds of foods" -- doctors have recently changed his medication. Again. Whether they find the right mix could determine whether Young is able to drop weight before the season opener, which is now just 3 1/2 weeks away."
"'It's a lot tougher than people imagine,' Young said," according to Mr. Svrluga's article, but the writer admits that as DY adjusts, "...He could be rapidly losing ground to Nick Johnson in the tussle for the first base job."
Mr. Svrluga's article also quotes Nationals' GM Jim Bowden and Manager Manny Acta, who offer support to the popular Young:
"The good news is these problems are early in March and not late in March," Bowden said, "and we have plenty of time to get him ready for the season." Acta is unconcerned about seeing Young in games. "I know what he can do," he said.
And Dmiti Young doesn't want anyone worrying about him either, as Mr. Svrluga quotes the big first baseman/hitting machine:
"'I don't even like to talk about it,' Young said, 'because that takes away from what we should be celebrating, which is Nick being back out on the field.'"
In that quote and in a video interview included with Mr. Svrluga's article, DY relates that their is no animosity between himself and Mr. Johnson, who DY calls a friend, as DY states, (to paraphrase of course) their job is to play, the decisions are up to someone else, but with the attitude and genuine concern for his teammate that DY expresses, Nationals' fans are provided a glimpse into the thinking behind the organization having DY mentor the team's young stars like Elijah Dukes, and after reading and watching DY, I'm more convinced than ever that even if Nick Johnson wins the starting spot, Dmitri Young is going to play an important role in the Nationals' '08 campaign.