ARLINGTON, Texas -- Fans in North Texas have been fortunate to experience a rare sports romance trifecta. The Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks have all boasted or still boast an all-time great and franchise lifer.
Of course, Dirk Nowitzki just won his first NBA championship at age 33 and in his 13th season with the Dallas Mavericks. He'll have played 16 seasons and will be nearing the top five on the NBA's all-time scoring list when his contract expires. Mike Modano played 16 consecutive seasons with the Dallas Stars (20 seasons going back to the Minnesota North Stars) before delaying retirement at age 40 and playing last season with the Detroit Red Wings. Officially, Modano's not a Stars lifer (by the club's choice, not his), but you can't get much closer and he'll always be remembered for introducing hockey to Dallas and winning the Stanley Cup in 1998-99. He'll enter the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of the NHL's greatest American-born players.
Finally, Michael Young, the 34-year old Rangers captain now in his 11th season with the club, might not yet carry Hall of Fame credentials, but he's an instant Rangers Hall of Famer as the holder of multiple team records. He joined the major leagues' 2,000-hit club Sunday night and he shows no signs, in his approach or production, of slowing down.
"Things can happen that might be out of my control, but I have a pretty good idea of how to keep myself on the field," Young said. "I know my body and I know what it takes for me to go out there and be effective. So, that’s one thing I am confident of. Now, it’s just a matter of maintaining my approach and playing as hard as I can for as long as I can."
So, how long can Young play? Can he extend his career long enough to reach 3,000 career hits? Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter just reached the lofty milestone this season at age 37, becoming the 28th player in the game's history to get there (he's already moved up to No. 22 on the all-time hits list).
"I give him a great chance," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Young. "Health’s got to come into play, though; got to stay healthy. You can’t have too much time down. The way he can hit, every year he goes between 180 and 200-plus hits, he can get there. But, he’s got to stay healthy."
Young, now the Rangers' designated hitter and part-time infielder, has played in 114 of 116 games through Monday night. He's batting a team-best.334 and has 153 hits. He needs 47 more in the final 46 games to reach 200 for the sixth time in his career and first time since he had 201 in 2007, the final season of a five-year span with at least 200 hits. In the last three seasons, Young came close, finishing with 183, 174 and 186 hits, respectively, and doing so while playing in no more than 157 games in any of those seasons.
He reached 2,000 career hits in 1,621 games. Young turns 35 in October and he will be on the verge of 37 when his contract expires after the 2013 season. (Whether the Rangers stick with their captain to the end of his deal and potentially beyond after this summer's misadventure will be intriguing.) Considering Young will likely continue as the designated hitter in seasons to come -- theoretically keeping him healthier and fresher than playing the field every day, especially in the Texas heat -- at that point, he could be closing in on 2,450 hits.
At that rate, Young would have to play up to age 39, if not into his 40s, to get to 3,000.
It won't be easy, but the 6-foot-1, 200-pound California native is as strong and as healthy as ever. He at least has a chance.
"I’m not really trying to get too far ahead of myself, to be honest with you," Young said. "That approach has paid off for me through my career. I wasn’t thinking about 2,000 a couple years ago. I wasn’t really thinking about it when this season started. That’s what I think is one of my strengths as a player, is really focusing on the short term."