In Alabama, they talk of the 12-year-old seventh-grader who went out for varsity high school baseball and, after the laughter died, batted a league-leading .564.
"People around here still ask me about him. He was quite famous in central Alabama," says Chris Goodman, baseball coach at Alabama Christian Academy, the 2-A Division school the player attended in Montgomery.
Of course, sophisticated Southern Californians know better than to buy that mess of hog lard. Just another tall tale from the deep South. My, the hallucinations a stifling humidity can bring.
Well, the reality of Dmitri Young has hit Southern California pitchers--hit them hard.
Young, a 15-year-old sophomore batting .500 at Rio Mesa High, moved from Montgomery to Camarillo in February, 1988, just in time for his freshman--and third varsity--baseball season. The impact was immediate. Young batted .430 and was Cal-Hi Sports' freshman player of the year.
"Nobody could believe he was a freshman," recalls David Frazier, a junior and two-year starter at second base. "We thought, 'This guy's pretty big. Whose position is he gonna take?' And when that guy grabbed hold of a bat, whew! He swings a mean stick."
It is a swing overseen by a stickler for detail. Perfection is a way of life for Navy Lt. Cmdr. Larry Young, F-14 fighter pilot and father of one 6-foot-2, 210-pound third baseman without a driver's license.
"I see a direct correlation between flying and batting," says Larry Young, who is stationed at Point Mugu Naval Base. "Landing on a ship, you must give 120% of your attention to putting the plane exactly where you want it to be. But you have to be supremely confident in what you are doing.
"I apply everything I learn in flight training to Dmitri's development in baseball."
Larry Young recognized that his son had wondrous gifts for the game shortly after a 7-year-old Dmitri cried until his father allowed him to quit karate lessons and join a tee-ball team. From that day forth, there has been what Dmitri unabashedly calls "a two-man alliance" in pursuit of the perfect stance, the perfect swing. Dad researches theories of hitting then videotapes Dmitri's swings and applies a little Charlie Lau here, a tad of Ted Williams there.
Dmitri grabs a bat and listens up.
Every day, after practice or a game, Larry takes Dmitri and 3-year-old brother Delmon ("He already hits better than the 8-year-olds," Larry says.) to the baseball equivalent of a flight simulator--the batting cage--where Dmitri takes about 200 swings.
The cage is the only place Young sees fastballs to hit. This season he has been walked intentionally 10 times, and he sees "lots of dirt balls, pitches that are impossible to hit," according to Frazier. Many of those walks are as effective as extra-base hits--Young has 22 stolen bases in 23 tries.
"He's as exceptional a high school ballplayer as I've ever seen," says Rio Mesa Coach Rich Duran, whose team will travel to Santa Maria today for a first-round Southern Section 4-A Division playoff game. "Look at all the things he can do and do well. He's got better-than-average speed, a great arm, excellent power and is a very good defensive player."
And he is well-mannered, to boot. Young's military upbringing is evident in the sturdy "yes, sirs" and "yes, ma'ams" that pepper his conversation. Polite yet playful, Young breaks easily into a jumbo smile when he brings up the practical jokes his teammates pull.
"I'm usually the target of those," he says gleefully.
The smile occasionally turns to a frown when his father comes around. The "two-man alliance" is, at times, an uneasy one.
"His dad is always there and Dmitri sometimes takes it in a negative way," Frazier says. "He'll say, 'I hate it when my dad comes.' That's when we joke around with him and loosen him up."
Says Dmitri: "Sometimes I want him to let go. I'm going to be my own person."
To Larry Young, the tension is all part of learning and growing. "There's a fine line between daddy pushing too hard and daddy trying to perfect something," he says. "We go through that all the time."
Their differences are soon smoothed over because, for father and son, the goal is identical.
"I want to take baseball to the ultimate, to the top," Dmitri says.
All signs point to high school baseball being only a short stop on the way to the top for Young. He has been contacted by numerous professional scouts and will join a Houston Astros rookie team in September, a month before his 16th birthday.
Meanwhile, it's back to the cages, where Young strives to become a hitting machine battling a pitching machine.
"At the cage I try to distract him, to see if I can faze him," Larry says. "People overhear us and don't understand. After a great swing, the best he can do, I'll tell him, 'That was weak. Don't you have a better swing than that?' If he overswings the next time, I'll say, 'You let me get to you and didn't stay within yourself. Your best swing was the time before.' "
The product of such exercises is discipline, and Dmitri's discipline is an uncommon as his natural ability. The combination, it appears, could send him soaring to heights imagined only by a certain fighter pilot.