Home Runs In A Minor Key
Ernie Young connects for his 300th minor league home run, tops among players active in U.S. minor leagues
|Active Minor League|
Home Run Leaders
|-Compiled by Matt Eddy|
Ernie Young entered the season as the home run leader among players active in the U.S. minor leagues, and when he connected with a Brian Slocum fastball in Charlotte Monday night for his 300th, he became that club’s only active member. Izzy Alcantara has amassed 304 home runs in his minor league career, but has played exclusively in the Mexican League since 2003, amassing 46 of his home runs there.
Young, 36, had learned just this spring that the career mark is 484, held by first baseman Hector Espino of Mexican League fame. It would take Julio Franco-like longevity for Young to approach that mark, but as it is for any of minor league slugger waiting for another chance, it’s about more than milestones. Twenty-four active players have clubbed 300 home runs in the majors, but what motivates a minor leaguer to keep going when he's too good for Triple-A but not consistent or versatile--or lucky--enough for regular work in the majors?
“I just love playing the game,” Young said. “You know at any given time you could get the call, that one shot to get back to the bigs and perform. And I’ve always thought when you commit to something, you have to go all the way with it.”
Andy Abad can relate. With 142 homers, he’s not at the head of the list, but as a 13-year veteran who’s played for five different organizations and in two countries, Abad, 33, understands what it takes to stay motivated.
"The biggest thing that keeps you going is you’re going after your childhood dream," he said. "I mean, you can only play baseball maybe a third of your life if you’re lucky, so you want to keep going as long as you can. When you’re done, you’re done. You just keep putting the rest of your life off while you’re still healthy enough and have the desire enough to keep going. You’ll be able to do other stuff in life when you’re done, so there’s no rush to get there."
With 266 home runs, Adam Hyzdu ranks No. 2 among active players in U.S. leagues and shares more than a few things in common with Young. Both are righthanded-hitting outfielders who were drafted in 1990.
"It’s funny that Hyzdu is No. 2 because he and I have the same agent," Young said. "We were both drafted the same year: Him by the Giants, and me by the A’s."
Unlike Young, Hyzdu, 34, has never had a full season in the majors to establish himself. Young, a veteran of 17 professional seasons and a gold medalist for Team USA in 2000, hit .242/.326/.424 with 19 home runs in 1996, a season in which he was Oakland’s primary center fielder.
The quest to "some way, some how, get back to the bigs" drives Young, and like any player, his goal is to play for a major league playoff team.
"I’ve been on numerous minor league playoff teams," he said. "I was on Arizona’s roster when they clinched [the NL West] in 1999, but I wasn’t on the playoff roster."
From spring training through the winter leagues, baseball is a year-round occupation for veteran players like Young and Abad, who were teammates in Buffalo’s outfield for the 2005 season.
"It’s really a never-ending job," Young said. "When the season’s over, I get a couple weeks off. Then it’s off to the gym, off to the winter leagues, whatever it takes."
Added Abad: "I know one of the major things with Ernie and me is we’ve also played a lot of winter ball too. So a lot of these years we’re talking about, guys like he and I have had maybe three or four weeks of downtime all year. That makes it tougher because if your team in winter ball goes to the playoffs and you’re invited to big league camp, that takes you right into spring training."