Rutgers closer overcomes tragedy in final season


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Photo by Tianfang Yu |

Senior right-handed reliever Jon Young started a fundraiser in honor of his mother. For every scoreless inning he throws, Young and a group of supporters donate $10 to the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research.


Jon Young was ready to quit the Rutgers baseball team over winter break and before the start of his senior season. If it hadn’t been for a change of heart, the Scarlet Knight’s closer would not be enjoying what has blossomed into the best season of his career.

But for a handful of reasons, the pros of finishing out his career outweighed the hardship that befell Young in January — and besides, it was what his mother would have wanted.

Izabella Young, 55, lost her battle with cancer Jan. 12, 2015, after being diagnosed with lymphoma just a few months prior.

It was only a few weeks after her death that Young dedicated his season to the memory of his mother and then decided to take it one step further.

Photo: Luo Zhengchen

Andrew Young, older brother of Jon Young, supports his brother in as many games as he can make. Their bond strengthened after the loss of both of their parents.

“I dedicated the season to my mother who passed away from cancer,” Young said. “I have nothing else I can do but play for her this season.”

***

Young entered during the seventh inning this past Sunday, tasked with keeping the game close against Michigan State. The Spartans led 5-2, but with a good outing from Young, maybe Rutgers had a chance to come back.

In his first inning out of the bullpen, he allowed two hits, but didn’t let a runner score. The score still sat at 5-2. In his second inning of work, Young allowed another two hits, but this time a run scored on a sacrifice fly.

Young was visibly upset he allowed the earned run — it was only the fifth of his season. He slammed his glove into his knee after he walked back into the dugout. Young would pitch one more inning that game, throwing all zeros in his 12th scoreless inning of the season.

Throwing scoreless innings is not just about helping the Knights anymore — that’s only part of the motivation for Young. He decided to take up a different cause in memory of his mother, using baseball to facilitate it.

“I started a fundraiser that is going to the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research,” Young said. “It’s a scoreless inning (fundraiser). Anytime I throw a scoreless inning and I have supporters with me, we all donate 10 dollars for each inning. It’s exactly what my mother would have wanted.”

***

Izabella Young loved a lot of things: hiking, traveling and also watching her two sons do what they do best. Andrew Young, a graduate of Rutgers, is an actor based out of Red Bank, N.J., and Jon Young played baseball his whole life.

While Izabella loved watching her sons succeed both on the stage and the diamond, she doesn’t love baseball. She didn’t like it at all, by Jon Young’s admission. Perhaps it was because she was born in Warsaw, Poland that she didn’t have the affinity for baseball that her sons have. But either way, Young appreciated her for going to every game.

“She wasn’t the biggest baseball fan, but she was always here at my games to support me. I’m playing for her,” Young said. “It’s incredible looking back that she would attend all my games. That’s like telling me to go to a dance festival, something I have no idea about. She was just there for me — to support me. It was really incredible and special of her to always be out there.”

***

Not many people have to deal with losing a parent before they finish college. Jon Young has the unfortunate circumstance of losing his father in high school to a heart condition.

The relationship between Jon and older brother Andrew Young goes beyond that of most siblings in their 20s. They are all they have left.

When Jon Young entered the game Sunday, Andrew Young leaned up against the fence and he was nervous. Just as tall, or taller, than his 6-foot-3 brother, Andrew Young sticks out of the row of the Knights' supporters. 

However, he’s there for one reason.

“Jon and I are really close. We always support each other as much as we can,” Andrew Young said. “I go to as many games as I can. I do acting as a hobby, and Jon comes to all my shows. We always lean on each other in all walks of life. I love baseball, but I get very anxious when Jon enters the game since he only enters in the highest intensity of the game.”

***

Izabella Young’s diagnosis came out of nowhere in the winter of 2014. Prior to prognosis, Izabella was hiking, saw one of Andrew’s shows and watched Jon pitch in the fall ball season.

After she was diagnosed with lymphoma, Jon Young made the decision to quit playing baseball to help out his mother.

What he was going through was something that Rutgers head baseball coach Joe Litterio thought no one should deal with at his age. Understandably, he let him be with his family.

“What that kid has been through is something that you don’t want anyone to go through, especially at a young age like he is,” Litterio said. “He’s been able to deal with it. I was kind of worried how it would affect him, but when it gets late in the game, I’m going to him.”

Jon Young used the winter break to be with his mother and family. He thought about making the toughest decision a baseball player could make: he decided to quit.

Andrew Young saw his brother have a change of heart. Even though his family lost one member, Jon Young knew he still had Rutgers’ support

“When my mom first got sick, and about a week before she passed away, my brother came to me and said he was going to quit baseball,” Andrew Young said. “He wanted to stay focused on school and take care of her so she could get to every doctor’s appointment. After she passed, the coaches had no idea if he would come back. But Jon knew he wanted to be with his teammates, and it became an outlet for him to get his mind off things.”

***

Earned run average is the statistic used to keep track of the amount of runs a pitcher allows over his innings pitched. Jon Young leads all of the Knights' pitchers in that category with a 2.18 average.

Jon Young is enjoying the best season of his career. He has a 1-0 record and allowed only five earned runs in almost 21 innings pitched.

His best season could be attributed to the promise he made to his mother to donate money for each scoreless inning pitched or it could be because it’s his senior year, and he wants to end it on a high note.

“I just hope that we keep winning. We want to make a push to the (Big Ten) Tournament,” Young said. “As long as I can get in there and help us out, it doesn’t matter the situation. I just want to help us win. As a senior, I’m trying to step up and do my job. I only have a couple more games and I have to give everything I have.”

***

Andrew Young is relieved. Jon Young just set down the side in order against Michigan State in the ninth inning Sunday, and now Andrew Young can breathe again.

He moves from his spot in the bleachers at Bainton Field, heads to meet Jon after the game to tell him how proud he is and to talk to him for as long as he can. After all, Jon Young has just amassed another two innings to add to cancer research on behalf of his mother.

Andrew Young can’t help but think that Jon is a better person and pitcher because of what has happened to their family.

“With everything that Jon has gone through, pitching in the ninth inning of a close game is the easy stuff,” Andrew Young said. “I think it’s helped him definitely get his mind off of difficult things, but it’s also helped him with his pitching. He is not putting the pressure on himself anymore in those situations because he knows how much he can take. Facing some of the studs he faces in the Big Ten is nothing compared to the stuff he’s gone through.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.


Tyler Karalewich

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