We’ll guess that Kevin Youkilis steps into the batter’s box at Fenway Park around 7:13 Monday night — three minutes after Red Sox pitcher Aaron Cook rocks back and issues the first offering of the game.
Almost certain to be slotted in the No. 2 spot, Youkilis will be clothed in Chicago White Sox garb. The masses on hand may not know how to react to seeing this particular player — someone who carved out a nice career while with Boston — in enemy colors, but lets keep in mind the following before mixing the “Youk” chants with a smattering of boos and hisses, which in fairness could be hard to differentiate.
While the mood during the final days of Youkilis’ tenure with the BoSox seemed to cast a pall over the entire franchise, straining everyone to the point that something needed to happen and fast, it’s important to remember the circumstances surrounding his exit. As hard as this may be to fathom, Youkilis did not depart Fenway Park by his own volition. He was traded away.
Just because Youkilis swapped Sox doesn’t mean he should have a target on his back and be subjected to the harsh treatment that greeted Johnny Damon in his first game at Fenway following his exodus from Boston. Granted, Damon’s choice of wardrobe made him ripe for the picking, yet the big picture goes beyond the simplicity of him wearing Yankee pinstripes.
Damon was a free agent when he left Boston, meaning he still had the option of returning. Youkilis was not afforded such luxury. When you’re dealt, caution is thrown to the wind, the hope that through all the uncertainty, a safe landing awaits.
With that as the backdrop, Joe Bick,Youkilis’ agent, hopes that those planning to flock to Yawkey Way on Monday grasp the significance of his client returning to his former stomping grounds, remembering that Youkilis while with the Red Sox was a three-time All-Star who played on two World Series winners.
“My hope is that the reception would be something similar to the send-off,” said Bick upon being reached late last week, noting the emotional and teary-eyed farewell that highlighted Youkilis’ final moments as a Red Sox prior to the June 23 trade to Chicago was officially finalized.
“I think Red Sox Nation respects Kevin for the effort and the intensity he always played with and I think they appreciate that,” Bick went on before adding with a laugh, “I’m sure they’ll give him a round of applause and hope he makes an out.
“I’m sure Kevin’s excited and it’ll be interesting to see how everything goes.”
In terms of events that are already shaped, Bick attributes the renaissance Youkilis has enjoyed since joining the White Sox to one clear-cut factor, one that is not tied to health. Upon his relocation, he’s appeared in 16 of a possible 16 games. Ten of those games have occurred this month where the 33-year-old is hitting .371 with a .489 on-base percentage and a .657 slugging percentage.
Youkilis is no longer subject to the Boston Bermuda Triangle of Playing Time that skipper Bobby Valentine hatched in order to get his bat along with those of Will Middlebrooks and Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup on a fairly regular basis. With the White Sox, Youkilis is free of the clouds of uncertainty, knowing that upon reporting to work each day with his new team, the chances are pretty strong that he’ll be penciled into the starting nine by first-year White Sox manager Robin Ventura.
It goes without saying that this turn of events has been a boon for Youkilis.
“I think it’s a statement about how important your frame of mind is every day when you go to the ballpark,” Bick said. “Kevin is back in a very good frame of mind and looks forward to going to the ballpark and it’s showing up with his performance on the field. That’s an important piece of the equation for him.”
“Wherever Kevin was going, we had a pretty good inkling that he was going to be in the lineup every day,” Bick delved further. “Certainly he recognized that he had to go on the field and earn (consistent playing time), but he’s off to a good start with Chicago and we hope it continues.”
The lines of communication between Bick and Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington were always open with the talent representative noting, “Ben was very good about keeping us updated on a regular basis. We had a pretty clear picture on what was going on and couldn’t be happier with the outcome.”
That said, Bick wasn’t surprised that Boston elected to send Youkilis to an American League and potential playoff rival.
“(The White Sox) are in a different division and certainly there were some National League teams in the mix at the time of the trade,” Bick said, “but we knew from the start that Ben was going to do what was right for the Red Sox and I know he certainly took into consideration of wanting to see Kevin in a place that he would be happy and able to excel in.”
It’s no secret that Carl Crawford’s injured elbow precludes him from making any sort of strong relay back to the infield. Then again, it’s not as if Crawford possessed a cannon to begin with. According to the metrics employed in the Fielding Bible III to evaluate the throwing arms of outfielders, Crawford saved zero runs for the Red Sox last season.
Given Crawford’s current limitations, the onus falls on the cut-off men to make sure they plant themselves in a position that reduces the strain when the left fielder unleashing a throw. Jose Iglesias realized this during the course of the five innings Crawford played last Thursday for the Pawtucket Red Sox, yet another example of a young player continuing his minor-league education.
After watching Crawford bounce two throws back to him in the early innings, Iglesias reacted differently after Buffalo’s Valentino Pascucci doubled into the left field corner in the fifth. As Crawford dug the ball out, Iglesias moved closer to Crawford, resulting in a throw that Iglesias caught on the fly.
“I just tried to get as close as I could,” Iglesias acknowledged. “The bottom line is that you have to know your teammates; everybody is different. (With Crawford), the only thing we did different was the short cut, but we’ve practiced that before.”
Said Crawford, “(The infielders) have it setup where they come out and meet me. It’s something that they already know and I don’t think I have to say too much.”