Ryder Young was beaming with excitement when he stepped on the field at T-Mobile Park in Seattle last month.
The thrill quickly turned to fear.
The 12-year-old from Carmel Valley traveled to the northwest to compete in the West Regional Finals of the inaugural T-Mobile Little League Home Run Derby, and a quick gaze at the competition, which consisted of Little League sluggers who were mostly bigger and appeared to be much stronger than him, snuffed out his confidence.
Young was among 10 Little Leaguers selected to compete in the West Regional Finals on July 28.
“It was really intimidating,” Young said. “I was really scared out there. I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to put up the numbers they were going to put up. It was just very intimidating.”
It didn’t show.
Young took first place and punched his ticket to the Little League Home Run Derby finals.
He is among eight Little Leaguers who will compete in the finals, which will be held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the site of the 2019 Little League World Series.
The Aug. 17 event will be televised on ESPN.
While his opponents flexed their muscles swinging for the fences in Seattle, Young used a compact, more mechanically sound swing he’d modeled after some of favorite major leaguers — a swing he’s been practicing hitting off a tee in his backyard for years.
Among his favorite players are Robinson Canoe, Nelson Cruz, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.
“I noticed from all those players that they have very smooth swings,” Young said. “They have a very short swings as well. They have a lot of bat speed.”
A grounds crew set up 180-foot fencing for the derby after a Mariners game.
Young went deep 20 times in two rounds of two minutes (major leaguers get four minutes in each round).
“His power is very impressive because it’s not like a brute power,” said Justin Graeber, who coached Young on the North County Mavericks travel ball team.
“His swing is just so sound and so smooth. For him to be able to hit 20 home runs in that home run derby wasn’t because he was the most in-shape kid, he’s able to hit home runs because he has a great swing.”
Young’s compact swing served him especially well in the first round, when the Little League sluggers faced a Seattle Mariners batting practice pitcher throwing from 30 feet out, said his father and longtime Del Mar Little League coach Chris Young.
“Most of the kids couldn’t catch up,” Chris Young said. “I think because Ryder had a short, compact, very tight swing, he was able to catch up. He hit five home runs and most kids didn’t have any.”
Ryder went deep 15 times in the second round.
“His power comes from his work ethic, it comes from him really being a student of the game and understanding his ability and what he’s good at, and then capitalizing on that and he’s able to do that,” Graeber said. “It’s rare for a kid of his age.”
Ryder’s ability extends beyond his ability to hit the long ball.
He took first place in the San Diego-area’s Pitch, Hit and Run competition in the 12-year-old age group earlier this year at Petco Park on June 8.
He’s also competitive football player.
The incoming Earl Warren Middle School seventh grader plans to play both sports at Torrey Pines following the tradition of his father, who played football under coaching legend Ed Burke. His mother, Becky, is a Torrey Pines alumni, too.
Ryder is uniquely versatile on the diamond, pitching both right-handed and left-handed. His six-finger glove was stolen last year when a burglar broke into his father’s car, so he now borrows a teammates glove when he pitches right-handed.
Ryder Young also plays first base, second, third, the outfield, bat from both sides of the plate, and pitches right-handed and left-handed.
He primarily pitches left-handed but throws right-handed as a quarterback. He throws left-handed at first base and from the outfield, and right-handed at second and third base.
Chris Young has tried to develop Ryder and his older brother, Nolan, who is a year ahead of him, to throw left-handed since both were practically toddlers.
“My brother was left-handed, and he wasn’t nearly as good of a baseball player as I was, and the opportunities that he got because he was 6-foot-4 and he was left-handed … it was just eye-opening to me,” Chris Young said. “So as soon as my kids could walk I basically tied their right hands behind their back and made them do everything left-handed.”
Ryder Young believes his experience in Seattle sheds light on some lessons that can apply to other parts of his life.
“Just really don’t judge a book by its cover,” Ryder Young said. “There was a bunch of big guys out there and that was pretty intimidating, but I overcame that fear and I just played my game.”