Michael Young climbs 2,000-hit barrier

Michael Young remembers vividly his first hit in the majors, the one that started him on a quest to collect bunches more. He led off the fifth inning in Baltimore on May 27, 2001, against Sidney Ponson and delivered.

"It was a two-strike slider," Young said. "It was a base hit to left field. I remember that first hit lit a fire in me. I've heard a lot of people say that once you get that first hit you feel like you belong. I never felt that way. I felt like, 'OK, I got my first one out of the way and now it's time to get more.' The first one lit a fire in me. It put me on the right path."

Ten years later, that path has led the 34-year-old to 2,000 hits, becoming just the 46th player in history to do it with one team. Young just keeps adding to his franchise-record total after passing Pudge Rodriguez last June.

Young got two hits Sunday off Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin, both infield rollers to third base. Career hit No. 2,000 came in the seventh inning of the Rangers' 5-3 come-from-behind victory.

He got his 2,000th hit in regular-season game No. 1,621. That's quicker than Paul Molitor (1,635) and George Brett (1,659), both of whom got to 3,000.

Young's path to that exclusive club hasn't been a particularly winding one. The 34-year-old has made a career out of straight-line consistency. That's how he's managed to have five straight 200-hit seasons on his résumé (2003 to 2007) and at least 174 hits in every full big league season since 2003. He's never wavered from his diligent approach during slumps or hot streaks. And for the most part he's stayed healthy, playing through bumps and bruises and even fractured fingers.

"It's a big deal to get 2,000 hits," manager Ron Washington said. "That's a lot of hits. He's a guy that after his rookie year or even his first few years, figured things out. He's a guy that shows up every day and grinds his at-bats no matter how tough the day was or night was. No matter how tough things are, he finds a way. That's quality."

It's an attitude born from parents who understood the value of hard work. Young's mother, Anne, was a school secretary near Young's childhood home in Covina, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. His father, Fred, was a construction worker. Both worked long days to provide for the family.

"I think it's just a blue-collar, workmanlike mentality," Young said. "You show up to work and be dependable, be prepared and do it as hard as you possibly can. That's how I'm going to play until I have to hang them up.

"I knew from a very early age what it was like to put in a hard day's work. When I got my job, I knew that's the way I was going to do it. It doesn't matter that it's baseball. That's the only way to approach a job. I go all out. That's the only way I know to do it."

That means arriving at the park and going about a set routine every day, no matter the circumstances. If Young needs extra time in the cages, he'll do that. But rarely in his big league career has he made wholesale changes to his swing. Like any player, he tweaks and makes adjustments, but he strongly believes in what he's doing and won't let some bad games or a rough stretch alter that.

"He's very good on the mental side of the game," said second baseman Ian Kinsler, who has had his locker beside Young's for the past handful of seasons. "He's a very composed player. He doesn't get out of the element of the game or make the situation of the game too big. He's consistent on every level. When you can do that with the talent he has, it's why he's got so many hits."

Young was drafted in the fifth round of the 1997 draft by Toronto and played in the minors with Vernon Wells. The two remain close friends and the Young that Wells watched at the plate in Hagerstown and Dunedin is similar to the one in Arlington now. Young might still be with Toronto if not for a trade that sent right-handed pitcher Esteban Loaiza to Canada for Young and RHP Darwin Cubillan on July 19, 2000.

"He pretty much had the same approach that he does now; everything was kind of towards right-center," said Wells, now playing for the Los Angeles Angels, the Rangers' chief rival in the AL West. "If you throw him inside, he'll pull that. He just kind of hit the ball where it was. His hands at the plate were as quick as anybody in this game. I was kind of shocked when the Blue Jays traded him because he was pretty much the best infield prospect that we had at that time.

"But the Rangers obviously made a wise choice in that trade in picking the right guy. From that point, he's kind of just done as I thought he would do and that's be consistent and be a professional in every sense of the word, and obviously, get lots of hits in the process."

In the week leading up to it, Young tried to downplay the quest for 2,000. He says he's got more lofty goals, though he won't flat come out and say it's 3,000. That's the number all great hitters shoot for because it takes durability, consistency and longevity. And it's close to an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame.

Can Young get there?

"I don't have a reason to think that he can't," Rangers president and CEO Nolan Ryan said. "The separating point is 2,500. A lot of people will get to that, but whether then the aging process affects you and that comes down to genetics and a desire to play."

Young knows to do it, he'll have to stay healthy and find a way to hit like he has for about five, six or seven more seasons. He's not worried about his performance dropping off.

"I have zero fear of failure in this game," Young said. "I think fear of failure is basically a lack of confidence. The only way to get confidence is through hard work and preparation. When the game starts, I know I'm ready. I have all the confidence in the world. If something doesn't go my way, I know it's not because I wasn't ready. That enables me to be mad after that game, think about what happened, make my quick adjustments and focus on the next one."

Young said rather than focus on the hits, he worries about helping his team in any given situation -- offensively and defensively -- and the hits pile up themselves.

That's what Young has done, helping to shoulder the offensive load when Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz were out earlier this season. Now he's going to have to get the job done defensively at third base while Adrian Beltre continues to rehab from a strained left hamstring.

"He's been huge for us," Washington said. "With us losing some guys with injuries, he's the guy everybody looks to. You can guarantee he's not going to let anyone down. He leads by example. He always has."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.