Royals’ Mike Moustakas, Chris Young have leaned on baseball amid grief
We watch the games, and the players are just faces or numbers, millionaires paid to entertain us. Yet, for all their fame and fortune, nothing can prevent them from experiencing loss like the rest of us.
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas lost his mother, Connie, on Aug. 9. His teammate, right-hander Chris Young, lost his father, Charles, on Sept. 26.
The two took a break on Sunday from the American League Championship Series to sit down with me for an interview about their late parents and what it was like to play through their respective illnesses and deaths.
We aired the feature Tuesday on the FS1 pregame show before Young’s start in Game 4. Here is the complete transcript of the interview.
ROSENTHAL: Let’s talk about Connie and Charles. The first question: Just how influential were they in helping you become the players and people you are now?
YOUNG: Oh, extremely. And my dad was my biggest role model. Some of my earliest memories are going to the park with him and playing baseball. He would tell me stories about watching Mickey Mantle when he was a kid and just the love of the game that he had, and certainly he passed it on to me. But then also the way he lived and who he was – he just set a great example.
MOUSTAKAS: My mom would take me to all my games. She was always there for me, always cheering me on. I remember when she was a coach at a softball team for my older sisters, and I would always go to the park and watch them play. She was just always a competitor and always a fighter.
ROSENTHAL: Both of your parents had fairly long illnesses. The game is difficult enough to play when you have a clear head. How difficult was it during those times when it was roughest for your folks?
MOUSTAKAS: It was tough, but I thought in my mind that it was kind of a break to get away from it by playing baseball. Coming to the yard every day … seeing all the boys and getting my mind off of what was going on back home … it actually helped me out a lot. At the end of the day, the game is over and then you have to deal with real life again after that. For me, that was difficult being away from her and being away from my family trying to keep in contact and tell her that I was always there for her.
"Baseball was a nice outlet, being able to come to the park for several hours each day and be around the guys and take your mind off of things a bit."
YOUNG: Like Moose said, baseball was a nice outlet, being able to come to the park for several hours each day and be around the guys and take your mind off of things a bit. My dad always had a way of sort of downplaying things or never complaining about his condition. I never, I think, completely understood the severity of it. I knew that it wasn’t good, but I never understood some of the roughest times what he was going through just because he never complained and all he wanted to talk about was either his grandkids or baseball. And so he always found the positive in everything, and I think it sort of sheltered me from how severe his condition was.
ROSENTHAL: Mike, you told me how stubborn and tough your mom was and you get that from her.
MOUSTAKAS: Absolutely. One hundred percent. She did what she wanted to do. And if you told her no she was going to do it anyway. It kind of rubbed off on me a little bit. Kind of my whole family … my sister is the same way. My mom lived her life the way she wanted to. For us, as her kids, she had so many positive attributes that they just had to rub off on us, and we were able to soak most of those in.
ROSENTHAL: Mike, the last time you saw her, what was it like?
MOUSTAKAS: It was amazing, actually. She had been not responsive for a while, and then I came home and gave her my All-Star jersey. All of a sudden, she is up and walking around and we are eating California Pizza Kitchen just like old times. She is out talking having a good time with us, and that’s my last memory of my mom, which is a good one.
ROSENTHAL: You went right from the All-Star Game in Cincinnati to California? (The Moustakas family lives in Northridge, California.)
MOUSTAKAS: Yeah, gave her my jersey, and she was wearing it around the hospital really proud of me. It is a cool memory that I have.
ROSENTHAL: Chris, the last time you saw your dad?
YOUNG: It was five days before he passed away. It was our last off-day of the season, and I flew home (to Highland Park, Texas) from Detroit and spent the day at home. Got to see him. Went over to see him. He had been fighting cancer. He wasn’t terminally ill at that point. And he was actually probably one of the better spots he had been at in terms of treatment. Felt good. High energy. Played with the grandkids. Just seemed to be at peace with everything. I didn’t really expect anything to turn for the worst over the next few days. … He had mentioned how he wanted to get to a playoff game, so when he got sick a few days later and passed away it took me by surprise. I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw him.
ROSENTHAL: Mike, when you found out your mom had passed, you knew she was sick and had not been well for a while, but it was still a surprise, right?
MOUSTAKAS: Absolutely. I was coming home from dinner with my wife. We were sitting on the couch watching a movie, and my dad called me. He doesn’t usually call me that late at night, you know? I picked up the phone and it wasn’t – it wasn’t good. And he was crying. I started crying. And it was definitely a surprise just because I know my mom – she never quits and never gives up, and to hear that she had passed away was a shock and just kind of took my wife and I by surprise.
ROSENTHAL: You both played the very next day. Chris, you threw five no-hit innings in your first start in two months. How difficult was that decision just to go back out there?
YOUNG: It was extremely tough on two fronts: On a personal level, dealing with a tragedy and then secondly, wanting to do what was right for the team. And wanted to make sure that the team felt comfortable having me out there. I certainly didn’t want them to be in a predicament where they were worried about, Is this the right thing for my team? when we are trying to win a home-field advantage at that point. The game had significance. And then, thirdly, I felt an obligation to my teammates. They have been there for me, and they pick me up. I felt like I needed to be there and play for them, play for my dad. I felt like ultimately that was what my dad wanted me to do. I could just hear this voice in my head saying, ‘Chris, you need to be out there.’ And that was my dad talking to me.
ROSENTHAL: Mike, your mom passed on Aug. 9 and you, too, played the next day. What was that like?
"Everybody just somehow knew that I was in a bad spot, and everybody on that team came and gave me as much love as they could and made sure that I was feeling at least a little bit better."
MOUSTAKAS: It was tough. I think we were in – I honestly don’t even remember. I just know I didn’t have a good game. I was struggling. I came into the field and everybody on the team came up and just gave me hugs. I didn’t even have to say anything. Everybody just somehow knew that I was in a bad spot, and everybody on that team came and gave me as much love as they could and made sure that I was feeling at least a little bit better. Just knowing that my mom was watching me again. She always watched every single game I played and then she was up there watching me again … it was kind of comforting to have her at the stadium again, finally.
ROSENTHAL: Chris, you were in a little bit of a different situation starting the game the next day. Starting pitchers generally don’t talk to teammates the day they play. What was the reaction in the clubhouse when you walked in?
YOUNG: This had all happened just 12 hours before, maybe even less than that. I walked in the clubhouse and the guys had already known – they knew about it, and instantly guys started coming up and just giving me hugs and just saying how supportive they were. Specifically, I remember Moose coming up and giving me a hug and saying, “We got you today. We are winning today for your dad.” And I mean I couldn’t keep it together. It was really, really tough. But the guys had my back. I knew that they were there for me. My dad wanted me out there, and I just trusted that good things would happen because of that.
ROSENTHAL: What has it been like for each of you having a teammate who experienced the same type of loss so recently?
MOUSTAKAS: It has been helpful to be able to talk to CY about it and have a guy that is going through what you went through. And someone that can relate to you on the subject, but you know at the same time CY and I, we like to keep everything to ourselves, I think. We don’t really like to talk about too much stuff. To be able to have someone that is going through that with you it makes it just a little bit easier. And nothing helps too much, but it makes it a little bit easier to get through those tough times when you are really missing your mom or your dad and you got someone you can go, “Hey man, I’m kind of having a rough day today. Can you talk to me a little bit?” Things like that really help out a lot.
YOUNG: Like Moose said, it is kind of an unspoken mutual appreciation and respect. And sympathy for what we have each gone through. Certainly it hit home for me when his mom passed away, and I told him at the time I said my dad has been sick, too, and this really just hits home for me. The hug that he gave me pregame and then he gave me one postgame … I was in my locker just crying my eyes out after I came out of the game and Moose was the first one up there and just hugged me. And there is just a mutual appreciation for it. I understand everything he went through. How hard it was, and yet he still showed up day in, day out and gave his best effort. And so I felt the same obligation and it was inspiring for me to do so.
ROSENTHAL: Is there anything you have done in tribute to your dad?
YOUNG: Honestly, I haven’t really thought about it. I know that the clubhouse manager Jeff Davenport took my uniform, my hat and got me some game balls. He got a game ball from the game for me, and then three more for my two sisters and my mom. And so I will share those with them. But I haven’t really thought through the whole thing. It has just been a little bit of a whirlwind since that happened.
ROSENTHAL: Mike, how did you decide to start scrolling your mom’s initials in the batter’s box?
MOUSTAKAS: I just went to the plate one time and just did it. If there is someone I would want in the box with me, it would be my mom, every time. So just writing her name or writing her initials there just kind of makes me feel good. Makes me smile to know she is up there. I wouldn’t have to do that because I know she is always there no matter what, but it’s just something that I looked down I see her initials. It kind of makes me smile a little bit: All right, everything is going to be all right. No matter what happens right now, everything is going to be all right. Even if you get out or you strike out. It is not that big of a deal. Mom is here with you. Mom is watching. She’s got you.
ROSENTHAL: These are the biggest games of your lives, postseason games. How much are your parents on your mind as you prepare for each game, as you are playing … how much are you thinking about them?
YOUNG: It is constant. My dad is constantly with me. I just feel like he is always there. There is just a voice in my head. I feel like he is enjoying the games from a different perspective now. So he is always there. And then also still worrying about my mom, my sisters, making sure that they are OK. Calling home, texting after each game. I think baseball has been a great refuge for all of us being able to enjoy this postseason. My mom has been at every game. My sisters have been here, and I think it is helping us all heal and honor my father and what he loved.
MOUSTAKAS: Like Chris said, just trying to make sure my family is OK. My dad he has been with my mom for most of his life. Now he has got my sisters back home. Trying to make sure everyone is all right and getting my dad and my family out here as much as possible. Like CY said, baseball has been good healing for us because we got to go out there and play, and my family gets to watch me and my mom is still watching me. Just trying to make sure everyone is all right back home and try to keep in contact as much as possible and just constantly telling everybody that I love them.
ROSENTHAL: Mike, what do you think your mom would say to you during the playoffs? What kind of advice would she give you?
MOUSTAKAS: Just keep playing hard. Never give up. Never (quit). And it is kind of funny. That is always what I say when we are down a couple of runs. Always tell the boys we’re not done yet. We’re not going to give up. And you know, this team is just constantly fighting. It kind of resembles my mom a lot. Never giving up and never stop fighting. It is kind of like she is with all of us right now. The little voice in my head telling the boys to not give up. We got it.
ROSENTHAL: Chris, what would your dad say?
YOUNG: Almost the exact same thing. Keep fighting. Give your best effort and have fun and enjoy it. That is exactly what he would say. He was a fighter and set a great example. Keep giving your best effort, and it will all work out.