ARLINGTON, Tex. — In the silence after the' loss to the San Francisco Giants last year in the World Series, former UC Santa Barbara star Michael Young addressed his anguished teammates. Young, the undisputed leader of the team, who then played third base, was already looking ahead, telling the players to retain their focus for a return trip the next year.
"Michael Young made a statement in that meeting that was, enjoy your winter, but don't turn it off mentally," Rangers Manager Ron Washington said Saturday after the Rangers had won their second consecutive American League pennant. "We come into spring training, and Day 1, they committed themselves to doing just that."
But of all the people whose focus and mental approach might have been called into question heading into 2011, it was Young's. For a decade, he had been the model Ranger, a star player and dependable character through the ups and downs of the Rangers' sometimes toxic clubhouse mix.
But in an unexpected and painful sequence of events similar to the Yankees' acrimonious contract negotiations with their longtime captain, Derek Jeter, last winter, Young found himself at odds with the Rangers' front office on the eve of spring training. His future with the only major league team he had ever played for was in doubt.
He felt betrayed, asked to be traded, wasn't and then, without a trace of rancor or bitterness, put it all behind him and put together one of the best seasons of his career. It culminated with the Rangers beating the Detroit Tigers, 15-5, on Saturday night, behind five runs batted in from Young, to return to the World Series.
"He's the nucleus of this team, and I'm glad he didn't get traded," his teammate David Murphy said afterward amid the celebration. "You look at what he did this year, it's hard to believe we'd get back here without him. He loves this team, he loves these players and he wanted to be here. He had a great year, and he led us right to this moment."
On Saturday, Young was hugging teammates, smiling, laughing and drinking Champagne once again. But in January and February, his sentiments were much different after a transaction that left him feeling unappreciated.
On Jan. 5 the Rangers signed the free agent Adrian Beltre to play third base, and for the third time in seven years, the Rangers were asking Young to change positions.
In 2004, he vacated second base when Alfonso Soriano arrived in the Alex Rodriguez trade, and in 2009, he moved from shortstop to third base when the Rangers promoted Elvis Andrus. When the Rangers signed Beltre, they wanted Young, who turns 35 on Wednesday when the Rangers play Game 1 of the World Series, to be the designated hitter and utility infielder.
Young, the longest-tenured Ranger (he made his debut in 2000), had finally reached his limit. He said the Rangers had "misled and manipulated" him, and he eventually requested a trade.
The Rangers said they would not trade Young unless it improved the team, and they never found a palatable deal. So on Feb. 20, Young reported to spring training in Arizona, and according to teammates and General Manager Jon Daniels, it was never an issue again.
"He came up to me on the first day and he told me he never had a problem with me," Beltre said. "He told me it was between him and the front office and welcomed me right away and made me feel a part of the team. He is a great teammate."
After putting aside the anger, Young batted .338 (he won the American League batting title in 2005 with a .331 average) and knocked in 106 runs, both career highs. He started 69 games at D.H., 39 at third base, 36 at first base, 14 at second base and 1 at shortstop.
The Rangers were clearly not surprised. They thought that once he put on the uniform, Young would never do anything but strive to win.
"We were in a situation this spring that nobody wanted to be in," Daniels said. "But we knew Michael as a human being and a person, and when he says that he was going to put it behind him and be focused and between the lines and in the clubhouse, it wouldn't have any impact. I really didn't have any doubt about that. It really speaks to his focus and professionalism."
Asked what it meant to get back to the World Series after everything he went through in the off-season, Young responded in a way that typified his approach to the game and his love of the Rangers.
"It means everything, because I get to play with great teammates," he said. "I'm honored to be able to suit up with them."