A few years ago, some speculated that Chris Young’s baseball career might be over. Now he’s reached the pinnacle of the sport.
The resurgence of the former Highland Park standout earned him a new two-year contract worth $11.5 million from the Kansas City Royals this winter after he became a key part of their run to a World Series title in the fall.
For the 36-year-old pitcher, capturing his first World Series title – he was the winning pitcher out of the bullpen in Game 1 against the New York Mets – capped one of the more incredible comeback stories in recent years in baseball.
“It’s a dream that I’ve always wanted to achieve,” Young said. “It’s been a motivator during the tough times.”
After graduating from Princeton, the 6-foot-10-inch Young played his first two MLB seasons with the Rangers starting in 2004, then had a few strong years with the San Diego Padres, where he was an All-Star in 2007.
However, a series of arm and shoulder injuries led to various stints on the disabled list, and caused him to bounce between organizations between 2010 and 2013. After finally being diagnosed and treated correctly, Young posted one of his best seasons in 2014 with the Seattle Mariners, tallying 12 wins and being honored as the American League Comeback Player of the Year. He signed with the Royals as a free agent prior to 2015.
“It certainly isn’t the way you’d script a career, but I’ve learned a lot of life lessons,” Young said. “Physically, I feel great, and I’m still pitching at a high level.”
Last summer, Young and his family — including his wife, Elizabeth, and three young children — moved after eight years from San Diego back to the Park Cities, where his oldest daughter now attends Hyer Elementary School. Being apart from them so frequently is one of the most difficult parts of being a professional athlete, he said.
Even for a veteran like Young, the pennant chase and the postseason made for a pressure-packed couple of months. The most emotional moment came during the final week of the regular-season, when Young pitched one of his best games of the season just 12 hours after his father’s death.
With his scheduled start looming, Young decided to pitch that day in Cleveland both to honor his dad and to support his teammates, and he credits the experience for helping him heal.
“It was really tough, but I felt like before I could come home, I had to pitch that game,” Young said. “I felt it was the best way to honor him. My dad played a part in all this. It felt like it was me and him out there together.”
A few weeks later, in his first World Series appearance, Young pitched three shutout innings in relief during the opening game to earn the win. He later started Game 4, which Kansas City also won.
“I didn’t view it as pressure,” Young said. “I saw it as an opportunity to seize the moment.”
Young said he looks forward to spending the next two seasons (or perhaps three, thanks to an option in his new contract) with the Royals. It will be the first time in the past several years when he will report to spring training in February with a job already secure.
“They were willing to take a chance on me when 29 other clubs weren’t,” Young said. “It’s a first-class city and a first-class organization. At this point in my career, to have that championship and play with this great group of guys, it’s all you can ask for.”