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Eric Young Jr. opens up to Angels teammates about his grief after loss of first child

Veteran outfielder Eric Young Jr. signed a minor league contract in hopes of playing with the Angels this season.
Veteran outfielder Eric Young Jr. signed a minor league contract in hopes of playing with the Angels this season.
(Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

On Jan. 24, Eric Young Jr. agreed to a minor league contract with the Angels to compete for a spot on their bench. On Jan. 26, he and his wife of four years, Victoria, welcomed their first child, Eric Young III, into the world, three months premature, too much so to survive. They held their baby boy in their hands for one night before he died.

At Angels camp four weeks later, Young stood in the middle of the Tempe Diablo Stadium clubhouse and relayed his family’s story of hardship. Please, he told his new teammates, do not be afraid to talk to me, about this or about anything.

“He knows that generally in those types of circumstances, teammates, coaches, front office and support staff generally try to give guys space,” General Manager Billy Eppler said. “E.Y. wanted to confront that. That’s a very high-character, very admirable thing to do, and he spoke from the heart.”

This week, Young said he was determined to be open about his grief to help untold others processing pain of all kinds.

“I’m trying to turn tragedy into triumph, and maybe inspire some people along the way who might be battling something just as devastating to them,” he said. “I’m not scared of the situation. I don’t shy from it. It’s one of the cards that’s been dealt to me, and I’m going to play it the best I can.

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“Hopefully, other people can work hard through just watching me.”

And the Angels outfielder’s faith informed him he was in the right place to persevere.

“Some people might look at it as coincidence. I look at it as destiny,” Young said. “What are the odds that you sign with the Angels and then receive another angel in the same week? It’s all about perception, how you look at it, and how you choose to go forward with it.

“I believe everything happens for a reason, and I think I’m supposed to be here in this locker room for a reason.”

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Huston Street has known Young since they spent three seasons together in Colorado, beginning in 2009.

The son of a longtime big league second baseman, Young was the youthful spark plug of those Rockies teams, a utility man, pinch-runner extraordinaire and nutrition fanatic who worked his body fat down to 3% before he learned it was dangerous. It’s higher now, and he’s 31, playing only the outfield.

Though there is no clear spot for him on the Angels’ opening-day roster, he is grasping for one anyway, eager to avoid a reprise of 2016, when he spent a season mostly in the minor leagues for the first time in eight years.

And he is committed to moving forward the only way he can.

“He’s always been one of the most positive people I’ve ever been around, one of the most diligent workers, one of those people that has a profound respect for life, for the blessings he’s been given, growing up the son of a major leaguer,” Street said. “I think all of those principles are helping him endure.”

Street’s father died from a heart attack on Sept. 30, 2013. Grieving was so challenging, it upended him as a person and player. He offered that as a reference for Young’s approach.

“I have no way to understand what he’s going through. I wouldn’t even try to,” Street said. “But if I had to testify to how I think he’s handling it, I think it’s one of the most incredible, inspiring things I’ve been around.

“From my own experience, I was in denial for a long period of time, and I didn’t even know I was. You just try to fill your life with all these other things while you’re feeling this massive trauma. The way he’s dealing with it, the openness is a very healthy thing.”

Until Young’s February speech, “You would’ve never known it happened to him,” Mike Trout said.

“He’s out here working hard every day, and I can’t even imagine what he’s going through,” Trout added. “For him to have the courage to stand up and talk and be that strong, it’s good for us. And when we have his back, it’s good for him.”

Street thinks of his three boys and about Young’s lost son. Even for one instant, he said, he cannot bear the thought.

“For anybody who has children, it’s just the absolute worst possible thing you could endure,” he said. “But he’s doing it in a number of positive ways. It’s not only impressive, but it teaches us a lot about character.”

As Street spoke on a recent afternoon in the Angels’ clubhouse, Young emerged from pregame batting practice, equipment in hand, headed to the training room. Street gestured over to him.

He’ll probably say hello to every single person he walks by and smile at anybody that smiles at him,” Street said. “I’m sure it’s weighing on him, every second of every minute, in some way, shape or fashion, even if not consciously. But what I’ve witnessed of E.Y. since his days in Colorado is, the dude just never stops playing hard.

“And that’s a metaphor, not for baseball, but for who he is. He does everything the best he can do it, and losing a child is probably the hardest thing he’ll ever have to go through in life. I pray to God it’s the only time he ever has to go through something like that. But he has his faith, and he has us. We’re behind him.”

pedro.moura@latimes.com

Twitter: @pedromoura


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