For the last two weeks, every morning where I woke up and the Red Sox hadn’t traded Kevin Youkilis was already getting off on the wrong foot. It was like my personal white whale, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I needed the Red Sox to get rid of him, to ship him off as far away from Boston as possible. He had become my whipping boy for the team, the guy who somehow was blamed despite playing on a team full of players equally as culpable for the team’s up-and-down play.
I championed the cause, feeding the fire that has been growing ever since Will Middlebooks played his first game with the Sox on May 2. I felt like some old guy standing in the middle of the two players with a big dip in my mouth and a cowboy hat on telling Youk that this “This town’s too small for the both of you.” And it was.
So why, when the Sox traded Youkilis to Chicago on Sunday did it feel so…bittersweet?
What the team got back in the trade is irrelevant to me, and I imagine that irrelevant is going to be the perfect word to describe the impact that “Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart” have in Boston. But the buildup to the trade was such a dominant topic around New England for so long that when it finally happened, it just didn’t provide the relief that I was looking for. It made me kind of sad.
Before I go on, here’s what I wrote about Youkilis on May 3. I’ve wanted to get rid of this guy for the majority of the season:
“It happened suddenly, but the Kevin Youkilis that we all knew and loved is gone, and those .950 OPS numbers aren’t ever coming back. With his most recent trip to the disabled list this week, due to a lingering back problem, it’s looking more and more likely that Youk’s days as a card carrying member of Red Sox Nation are numbered.”
“Unfortunately, Kevin Youkilis isn’t a productive hitter anymore. From 2007-09, he was one of the best hitters in the American League, if not all of baseball. He came in third in the MVP voting in 2007, sixth in 2008 and he hit .307 in 2009. In all three of those years, his OPS was .958 or better, he twice hit a least 27 home runs and he was walking almost 80 times a year. He was the perfect sabermetrics guy – a player who could hit for power and average, while still getting on base even more than his already high batting average suggested.
Now, Kevin Youkilis is a shadow of that hitter. The Greek God of Walks has been replaced by the Greek God of Angrily Striking Out and Then Going on the DL. In 2010, he was good, but he couldn’t stay on the field. In 2011, he tried to battle through injuries and stay on the field, and he had nothing to offer. He hit .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBI, and his OPS was down to .833. Keep in mind, he also played poor defense (remember the run prevention movement from a couple year’s back?) and routinely pissed everybody off.”
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was holding a torch and leading the anti-Youkilis riots. I wanted him out so bad that I fully accepted the fact that the team was going to get players like Lillibridge in return. It was fine. The payoff in the trade would be shipping Youkilis out of town – classic addition by subtraction.
And at the end of the day, inside, I guess I still feel that way. Will Middlebrooks gets to play every day, Adrian Gonzalez can play first every day, Papi can DH and the team can try to get into a rhythm with guys playing their natural positions. Who knows, maybe we’ll evne get a Brent Lillibridge sighting where he plays all nine positions in one game. Minus Youk, the possibilities are endless.
I have to keep reminding myself of that, because on Sunday night, when it became official that Youk has been traded, I had to fight back tears like a 6-year-old trying to look tough when he scrapes his knee. I was a little rattled by the whole thing.
I’m a sucker for those moving sports moments that don’t happen all that often. I’m a hopeless sports romantic. I like the Hollywood-script type moments, where you get goosebumps and you say aloud “This is pretty cool,” and nobody gives you a weird look. Whether that’s a big home run/game-winning shot, an emotional press conference or a postgame celebration, I just like the fact that sports can give you that feeling.
After Youkilis was given a gift triple by the baseball gods in his final at-bat in a Red Sox uniform, and then was promptly lifted for pinch runner Nick Punto at third base, the telecast suddenly morphed into one of those moments. I was captivated by the whole thing, in a way that can only be providing through the deeper aspects of sports.
Punto hugged Youkilis – and I mean HUGGED, forcefully – before Youk trotted to the dugout and was greeted at the top step by just about everybody. Hugs were exchanged, the players were clapping and Youk – in a perfect snapshot of his personality – just looked like he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. That isn’t to say that he wasn’t appreciative – I’m sure he was – but Kevin Youkilis is not a lovey-dovey guy. I can’t imagine that there are a lot of kisses exchanged the Youkilis family Thanksgiving dinner.
But the best part came right afterwards. Youkilis stepped down in to the dugout, but the applause just kept coming. Bobby Valentine, standing just on the outside of the dugout started motioning over and over for Youk to come and give the fans a wave. Bobby must have made the “come on!” hand gesture to Youk…I don’t know….15 times before Youk finally says fine, forget it, I’ll appease the masses.
Think about this: Why would Youkilis feel any obligation to step outside the dugout and acknowledge the fans? All they’ve been doing since April is trying to get him out of Boston as soon as possible. If you listened to sports talk radio, 90-percent of the calls pertained to the Youkilis situation, and 89-percent of those callers wanted him to go.
“You gotta trade Youk. I’m tellin’ you. This guy CAN’T play anymore!”
So with that as the backdrop, and with the knowledge that you are no longer going to be playing in front of these fans anymore, I’ll ask again: Why would Youkilis feel any obligation to step outside the dugout and acknowledge the fans?
Maybe he just wanted to shut up Bobby V and the rest of the team, or maybe he actually felt a tinge of sadness for being sent out of the only place he’s ever played in the majors, after two World Series titles and nine seasons. Maybe he just wanted to take in Fenway Park one more time as a his home ballpark, not as the enemy.
When he stepped out of the dugout, he lifted his helmet off and turned to the fans, nodding. I couldn’t tell if he had tears in his eyes, but I’m hoping that he did – it will make me feel better about being so emotional. What I do know, though, is that the fans went absolutely wild. They were as loud as they’ve been in a long time, and those “YOUUUUUUUUUK” chants rang through the old ballpark just like they used to when Kevin Youkilis was the toast of the town.
And then it was over. Youk took it in for just a second, then barreled down the steps and disappeared from the Boston Red Sox.
A two-month period for Youk that must have seemed like two years had finally come to a close. He looked broken in his last few days in Boston, rundown by the media, the constant trade speculation and the lack of communication between him and his manager/GM. I’m sure his wish was to be traded.
It was mine, too. It was everybody’s. But, just like breaking up with a girlfriend, it’s hard. You know it’s right, and you’ve been preparing for a while, yet when the time comes that all goes out the window. You remember all the things that made you fall in love in the first place.
With Youk, it was the intensity, the way that it seemed like every single at-bat could be the difference between life and death. It was the two MVP-caliber seasons, the disgusting beard, the Greek God Of Walks nickname, the Moneyball connection, the World Series wins, the gold glove first base and slightly below-average third base. It was the “YOOOUUUUK” sound in the ballpark that soundly faintly like “BOOO,” but was the farthest thing from it.
It was just time to move on. He’ll come back on July 16, just after the All-Star break, only his sock color will be white instead of red. When he steps up to the plate, I guarantee you that Fenway will be as loud as it was on Sunday.
I’ll watching closely, because I’m a sucker for that stuff, even if just last week I was cursing his name.
I want to hear one more “YOUUUKKK” chant, for old time’s sake.