No. 5: Chris Young '02
On Oct. 7, San Diego Padres' pitcher Chris Young '02 played in Game Three of the National League Divisional Series. He threw for six and two-thirds innings without surrendering a run and struck out nine St. Louis Cardinal batters on the way to a 3-1 Padres' victory. Not bad for his first Major League playoff game.
What makes Young's story even more remarkable, however, is the fact that this talented right-handed pitcher was also a great basketball player. So great that Geoff Petrie '70, the president of the Sacramento Kings, offered him a contract to play in the NBA in 2002. Young decided to stick with baseball and has been making his mark in the Major Leagues ever since.
During his time at Princeton, Young achieved great success both in the paint and on the mound.
Joe Scott '87, head coach of the men's basketball team, was an assistant during Young's days as a center and recognized Young's ability to adjust quickly to collegelevel ball.
"He played well in all areas," Scott said. "He picked up what we do very quickly. He could make the long shot, and he was a good ball handler."
In 1999, his freshman season, Young was recognized as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year for averaging 12.9 points and six rebounds per game. His rookie success, however, did not stop when the basketball season ended. As a starting pitcher for the baseball team, his 2.38 ERA earned him a second Rookie of the Year title, making him the only player ever to receive this accolade in two different sports.
Baseball head coach Scott Bradley recognized which qualities set Young apart from everyone else.
"I always told people that even with all of the physical abilities Chris possessed, his athletic mentality is what separated him from the rest," Bradley said. "He has a unique way of being able to figure things out and make adjustments during competition."
While he continued to pose a threat on the court during the 2000 basketball season, it was becoming apparent that Young's real home was on the baseball diamond. Finishing with a 5-0 record and a 1.05 ERA, he led the Tigers to their first Ivy League title since 1996. In the first game of the best-out-of-three championship series against Dartmouth, Young pitched a complete game and struck out seven batters in the 5-2 Princeton win.
After the Tigers captured the Ivy crown, they went on to face fourth-ranked Houston in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Though Princeton lost the game 7-6, Young, who won an All-American title at the culmination of the season, remembers this game as one of his defining moments in a Tiger uniform.
"[One of the best moments was] pitching in the NCAA regional at the University of Houston," Young said. "It was a game in which we were supposed to get blown out, but we held the lead the entire game before losing in the last inning."
After his sophomore season, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Young in the third round of the MLB draft and offered him a $1.65 million contract. Not wanting to sacrifice his education, Young refused to sign until the Pirates assured him he could complete his college degree.
"The most important part of the contract negotiation was that [Pittsburgh] allow me to complete my education," Young said. "I was willing to give up my last two years of basketball at Princeton, but I was not going to sacrifice my degree to become a professional baseball player. When I had to report to spring training [senior year], I spent the next two months writing my thesis from the back of a minor league bus."
Ineligible to play at the college level once he signed the contract, Young remained on campus during his junior year before traveling to North Carolina to play Class A baseball that summer. After graduating, he played with a series of minor league teams, first under the Montreal Expos, and then under the Texas Rangers, where he finished with a 3-0 record and 1.48 ERA for AAA Oklahoma.
On Aug. 24, 2004, Young achieved his Major League dreams. He pitched five and two-thirds innings for his hometown Rangers, who defeated the Boston Red Sox, 8-7. In 2005, his first complete season in the majors, he finished with a 12-7 record and a 4.26 ERA.
After his move to the Padres in 2006, Young continued to shine. After earning a 1.17 ERA in June, he was one of five NL players in the running for the "Final Vote" — a system in which fans choose the final player to the NL All-Star roster — but lost to Nomar Garciaparra.
In the off-season, Young travels back and forth between Dallas and Washington, D.C., where his wife Elizabeth Young '02 attends law school. It is safe to say that Young is enjoying every moment of his dream come true.
"The best aspect of being an ML pitcher is the competition," he said. "It's a great challenge going up against the best professional players in the world every game."
In yesterday's paper: No. 6:Lynn Jennings '83 Read the full series.
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