Dmitri Young's remarkable turnaround from personal and legal problems might have been the feel-good story of the 2007 baseball season, which crested with his All-Star selection, a new contract and an award as the NL's Comeback Player of the Year.
The Washington Nationals first baseman, though, faces a fresh set of challenges in 2008. A diabetic, Young weighed 298 pounds when he reported to camp in February. He's missed the past five days because of a strained muscle in his side, and The Washington Post reported Wednesday that some team officials are disappointed in his physical condition.
Young joined the Nats last season when Nick Johnson broke his leg in September 2006 and was out for the entire '07 season. Now the two are locked in a battle to win the first-base job, and it's evident that because of his weight and injury, Young could be considered a long shot.
"People who judge, I could really care less what they think," Young said Wednesday, according to The Post. "Their opinion means nothing. A lot of people do judge. The only judge I know is God."
Said Nationals general manager Jim Bowden: "The good news is these problems are early in March and not late in March, and we have plenty of time to get him ready for the season."
Young learned in 2006 that he had diabetes, another challenge that Young knows he'll have to overcome.
"It's a lot tougher than people imagine," Young said.
According to The Post, he takes insulin injections up to four times a day. He told the newspaper he's "learned to eat the right kinds of foods" and doctors have once again changed his medication. Whether it enables him to lose weight before the Nats open the season March 30 remains to be seen.
"There's so much about it I don't even know," Young told The Post. "I learn constantly when I meet people, things that they do to help manage it. I didn't even know that before I do any sort of physical activity, my blood sugar has to be well above 150, so when I do crash, I crash back to normal. It's a constant process."
Young injured his side swinging in the batting cage. He has made progress but is considered a few more days away from resuming activity. Johnson has received most of the at-bats this spring, and the competition between him and Young has become a popular media topic in camp.
"I don't even like to talk about it," Young told The Post, "because that takes away from what we should be celebrating, which is Nick being back out on the field.
"I'll know when I'm in playing shape," he added. "That's being able to run and not get gassed, not cramping up. Being able to do everything -- get down on a ground ball, slide, doing everything that's baseball-related and not being fatigued afterwards. I know my body, and I've played this game long enough to know what I need to do."