Anderson University alum Cody Young was 10 years old when he looked into the eyes of a doctor and asked if he was going to die.
The prognosis wasn’t good. Young had Phase 4 cancer, and the medical opinion was that he would not live to see adulthood.
Tuesday the Baltimore Orioles prospect was honored as the 2010 winner of the Carl D. Erskine Award of Excellence during a ceremony at Anderson Country Club.
The award is given each year to a member of the Anderson University baseball team, and longtime head coach Don Brandon — who retired this year after a 38-year career — said he never has had a player develop as much over their four years as a Raven as Young did.
The Delta High School graduate came into the AU program as a self-described “average” athlete. Brandon wasn’t certain the fledgling infielder even had a strong enough arm to play shortstop.
By the time he was drafted by the Orioles following his senior season, Young was throwing the ball at 90 mph from his position in center field.
Brandon believes the answer lies in the cancer in Young’s youth. The disease stunted his growth.
Years later, Young’s healthy body made up for lost time.
“Those surrounding the situation didn’t give Cody much hope,” Brandon said during his introduction of Young on Tuesday, “but thank God there was hope by the doctors and the great physician.”
Young is adamant in his belief that God gave him a second chance at life.
He credits Brandon for giving him a life in baseball.
The legendary AU coach was the only man to recruit Young out of Delta. He said Tuesday he saw an emerging athlete whose best days still were ahead of him.
But Young exceeded even Brandon’s expectations.
“I have to be honest, I had no idea he’d develop like he did,” Brandon said. “His senior year he had great power, great foot speed and a great arm.”
Young’s .982 slugging percentage during his senior year was the best in Ravens’ history. His .482 batting average ranks second in school history, and his .532 on-base percentage ranks fourth.
He ranks sixth with 30 career home runs, 11th with 136 career RBIs and set school records for hits (6), runs (6) and total bases (14) in a game.
But Carl Erskine, the award’s namesake, said the honor isn’t about numbers.
“What do you remember about Jackie?,” Erskine said. “It’s not what he did, it’s who he was.”
The former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers star said he’s often asked about whom was his baseball hero growing up. Babe Ruth was the nation’s biggest sports celebrity at the time, but Erskine admired another member of the New York Yankees — pitcher Herb Pinnock.
His neighbors took the Chicago Tribune, and they would share the sports section with a young Erskine. He tore through it, looking for news on Pinnock.
“Every time I read a story about Herb Pinnock, it said two things without fail,” Erskine said. “He was one of the toughest and most competitive pitchers in the major leagues, and he was a great gentleman. He did things the right way.”
Erskine then said Young convinced him during his acceptance speech that he does things the right way as well.
Young’s voice cracked on several occasions, and it was clear the award was emotional for him. He’s one of four boys in a very athletic family — youngest brother Logan is now a freshman on Indiana University’s football team — and he thanked all of his relatives for helping him achieve his dreams.
He later said he felt humbled by winning the award, a bronze trophy of Erskine as a Dodger that somewhat resembles college football’s Heisman Trophy.
“It’s definitely a special award,” Young said. “It stands for more than just baseball. It stands for what you do off the field as well. There were a lot of guys in this senior class that were worthy of it.”
None moreso than Young.
Last year’s winner, Brad Lantz, returned to share the moment with Young, and he said he couldn’t think of a more deserving recipient.
“With Carl’s speech, Cody’s that guy,” Lantz said. “He wasn’t going to let you beat him at anything. Athletically, he does things the right way. He’s a great kid.”
With a great personal story.
And no fear.
He found himself buried on the bench much of this summer with the rookie league Bluefield Orioles in West Virginia. The team had seven outfielders on the roster, and Young was the lowest drafted among them.
So he jumped at any chance to get into the lineup.
One day, with the team losing by 12 runs, the manager asked if anyone wanted to pitch. Young never pitched in high school or college, but he quickly volunteered.
There were runners on, and the Orioles needed two outs. Young’s first pitch was wild. His second turned into a groundball double play.
The anecdote reveals perhaps the most important truth about Young: Never bet against him.
Whatever the odds.
“It’s almost like I expect something to come up eventually,” he said. “But I’ve learned it’s not what cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them.”
—George Bremer is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Photo credits: John P. Cleary and Don Knight. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.