Once a Forgotten Man, Eric Young Jr. is Now Baseball’s Most Inspiring Story
Eric Young Jr. is a lot of things — family man, second-generation MLB player, and stolen base king —just to name a few. One thing he is not, however, at least recently, is that of sought-after outfielder. In fact, EY — as he is known in baseball circles — hasn’t played anything resembling a full season in the MLB since 2013, when he played 148 games with the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets.
Since then, Young has had a difficult time sticking with one team, and for that matter, sticking in the actual big leagues.
Following 2013, a season which saw him lead the National League with 46 stolen bases, the 5–foot-10 outfielder bounced around all levels of professional baseball with varying degrees of success. From 2014-to-2016, there were both long and short stays in the big leagues, five different minor league teams, four organizations, and one forgettable stint with the Yankees — adding up to nine different uniforms in three years.
But then everything changed for Eric Young…and it started in the strangest of places — the Mexican Winter League.
After getting his walking papers from the Yankees in the fall of 2016, Young traveled South of the Border to play for Naranjeros de Hermosillo. In 35 games — about half of the MWL season — Young put together his first .300-or-better campaign since 2012 with the Colorado Rockies. Plus, it wasn’t just bunt singles and slap hits, EY was banging the ball with power like we had never seen. When all was said and done, he hit more home runs in 35 games — three — than the 232 games he played from 2014 and 2015 combined.
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So how exactly did this punch-and-judy hitter finally figure things out at the plate? You could argue it was the change of scenery or the quality of competition, but all logic points to something more pure and serene — like his wife carrying his first child.
Eric Young Jr. was ecstatic about the news, him and his wife even celebrated the 2017 New Year with an unveiling of the soon-to-be babies’ sex.
Then, with everything finally going his way, the New Jersey native got yet another dose of good news: the Los Angeles Angels were signing him to a contract.
Life was good. He had found his hitting stroke in Mexico, had a brand new team, and was going to have a baby boy — Eric Young III.
Unfortunately, things quickly became critical just two days after signing that precious contract with Los Angeles. His firstborn child, who was expected to be delivered sometime in April, was born 11-weeks premature on January 26th, 2017.
Severely underdeveloped, Eric Young III (or Trey for short) couldn’t survive outside of the womb and passed away in the early morning hours of January 27th.
People say the worst thing in the world is losing a child, and even though I’m not a parent, I think this sentiment is likely spot on. Luckily, Eric Young Jr. is a man of intense faith and was able to make the best of what could have been his last shot in affiliated baseball.
The same power EY brought to the table in Mexico was on display again in Spring Training, posting a career-high in home runs while only striking out four times in 55 at-bats. He also stole four bases, but with a jam-packed outfield, he wound up with an assignment to start the year at AAA Salt Lake.
Just like some of the misfortune he had seen in his own career, it was someone else’s misfortune that brings us to where we are today — with Eric Young Jr. as the lead subject in numerous national headlines.
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On Memorial Day of this year, Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout went down with a serious thumb injury that would knock him out for 10–12 weeks.
Three months without Trout looked like a nightmare for Los Angeles, a potential death sentence for a team playing in the same division as the red-hot Houston Astros. At the time, Houston led everyone in the AL West by 10+ games, meaning the Wild Card would be the Angels only track if they wanted to reach the postseason. However, without Mike Trout anchoring the lineup, the season seemed to be lost.
Little did the Halos know, the guy they would bring up to replace Trout had a serious vendetta just waiting to be paid.
That guy was Eric Young Jr.
Joining the Angels on May 29th, Eric Young Jr. immediately showed that he was not only playing for his MLB-life, but for his recently deceased newborn.
Sporting a new look and hitting in the nine-hole, EY dusted off his stolen base crown and swiped two bases right off the bat. Although the team lost, his performance was so impressive that by the next night he was penciled in the lead-off spot.
By the time he was finished with his third game as an Angel, Young was 5 for 11 (.455) and had already hit a game-winning homer.
From that point on, the Angels had found their full-time replacement for Mike Trout, even though the two are exact opposites in stature.
The best part of the whole situation is that the team wasn’t losing ground like they had thought they would. In fact, they even took two of three off the AL West-leading Astros — highlighted by a 12–6 road win on June 11th where Young drove in four runs, blasted his second home run, and stole his fourth base.
Even with that Trout-like performance on June 11th, the best was yet to come for the speedy outfielder.
In a game versus the first-place Yankees only two days later, the same team that barely used him in 2016, Eric Young Jr. had his signature comeback moment.
Leading off in the bottom of the eighth inning down 2–1, Young drove a fastball from former teammate Tyler Clippard deep into the right-field stands. The hometown crowd went absolutely nuts, and for a moment, Mike Trout was as forgotten as Eric Young was before the season. But the homer only tied the game, and the two AL teams would play to a stalemate until the bottom of the 11th inning.
With the game still tied 2–2, EY came to the plate again with the chance to be the star. He took a first-pitch ball from Yankees’ reliever Ben Heller and stepped back in the box for the 1–0 offering. Then, in a culmination of all the long bus rides and tear-filled hospital paperwork, EY lined a single up the middle to score Andrelton Simmons for a walk-off, 3–2 win.
The celebration was officially on in the City of Angels…and Eric Young Jr. was the toast of the town.
Several press clippings followed, highlighting both his performance in Trout’s absence and his tale of losing his first child. But in all the hoopla, he wasn’t only the subject of some baseball headlines, he actually turned out to be a helluva scribe, too.
As the new Los Angeles hero, Fox Sports tabbed him to pen a first-hand, “In My Own Words” column detailing his story — especially in the past year.
As I touched home plate, I held up three fingers to the sky. That was for Trey…
He wrote about his father and dealing with life in the minor leagues, but the most touching words came in reference to Eric Young III, the inspiration behind his performance.
Not one to settle, Eric Young got right back to work following his ascension to the national spotlight. In fact, he stole the show again the very next day. This time it wasn’t his bat, even though he did go 2–3 with a stolen base, it was his defense. Young made a great throw to nail superstar Aaron Judge at the plate, preserving a one-run lead with two outs.
All told, Eric Young Jr. has gone 20 for 62 with six stolen bases and is on pace to post a career-high in batting average — .323 BA. Plus, in only 20 games this year, he has more Wins Above Replacement — 1.3 WAR — than in his previous 563 games combined — 0.9 WAR.
No one knows what is going to happen when Mike Trout comes back, or if EY can keep playing at this career-best level. What we do know, though, is that he is the best story in baseball right now, and no one can ever take this 20-game stretch away from him.
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