Ray Young hadn't played professionally in four years. But the Arizona resident picked up the phone in June 2004 and asked for a tryout, with an independent team in Minnesota, the St. Paul Saints.
Arranging for his own transportation, the 40-year-old Young impressed enough for the Saints to give him a shot.
"I don't care how old he is. The man looks like he can pitch," Saints' manager George Tsamis was quoted as saying on OurSportsCentral, adding later, "He's got some nasty-looking stuff. It will be interesting to see what he does in a game."
That Young had nasty-looking stuff, was never the issue for Young. The issue was always whether he could control that stuff. In a career that began two decades before that call to the Saints, Young learned to control it enough to be named the best pitching prospect in the AAA Pacific Coast League.
But he couldn't control it enough to get that call-up to the majors.
Young began his career in 1984, signed by the Dodgers out of Moorpark College. In 13 appearances that year for rookie-league Great Falls, Young's ERA hit 7.23. Young only spent three seasons with the Dodgers system, never making it above single-A.
He lost time his final year with the Dodgers while recovering from chest surgery, according to The Los Angeles Times. His fastball had been clocked at 94 mph, striking out 81 batters in 83 innings the previous season, the paper noted. But in 12 contests in 1986, Young posted a 9.24 ERA.
Signing with the Blue Jays for 1987, Young showed flashes of brilliance with single-A Dunedin. In June, he pitched seven shut-out innings. He finished the year with a 2.64 ERA, in arguably his best season. But, by 1987, Young was with the Athletics, where he would stay through 1990.
Young started at class-A Modesto in 1988, hit AA Huntsville in 1989 and AAA Tacoma in 1990. By the end of his first year, The Los Angeles Times wrote things were looking up for Young. The paper outlined his problems, among them giving up 140 walks in 98 innings on the year, a constant problem through his time in the minors.
He had pitched eight shutout innings in his final outing, indicating he may have figured out his control problems, The LA Times wrote.
"I was having a lot of mental problems as far as baseball, trying to rush to the big leagues before I was ready," Young told The LA Times. "I was too pumped up every time I pitched. I had so many expectations from the organization, I couldn't relax."
By 1989, the expectations for Young only grew. He won his final 10 decisions and reduced his walk numbers from nine to four per game, The LA Times wrote in December. He was also the No. 4 prospect in the organization.
By mid-1990, Young was Baseball America's best pitching prospect in the PCL. Young went 14-7 with Tacoma that year, striking out 137 and walking 105. Despite being a top prospect, he was never called up.
Young's record becomes spotty after that year. He's next recorded with the Padres at AAA Las Vegas in 1993, then with the Marlins and back with Oakland system in 1994, getting his release both times. He later appeared with independent Minot in 1997, then briefly at AAA Rochester in 1998 then the Mexican League in 2000.
Then came 2004 and Young's trip to St. Paul. While the Saints' manager Tsamis was interested in seeing Young pitch in a game, he wouldn't get the opportunity. Young was released two days later. Young did catch on with independent Atlantic City, where in six innings of work, the 40-year-old gave up five earned runs, struck out three and walked seven.
- St. Petersburg Times, April 27, 1987: Clearwater bats finally come alive as Phillies defeat Dunedin
- Los Angeles Times, Sept. 4, 1988: Hard-Throwing Young Concludes Season With Renewed Hope
- OurSportsCentral.com, July 3, 2004: Saints game with Sioux Falls rained out