- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis stayed out of the public eye this offseason, but he emerged Thursday night to host his annual charity event to benefit "Youk's Kids" and he definitely made up for lost time.
He talked about his charity, the collapse of the 2011 season, his personal health, new manager Bobby Valentine, his new teammates and the future.
Youkilis battled a slew of injuries during the 2011 season and was limited to 120 games due to a sports hernia, groin injury and bursitis in his hip. He was placed on the DL in late August and returned for a brief period in September. He played his last game of the season on Sept. 15 and needed offseason surgery in October to repair the hernia.
He hit .258 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2011.
At his charity event on Thursday at the State Room, it was clear that he's in shape and has dropped some weight. He looks ready to improve on the lost season of 2011. He's met with the organization's newest medical staff for the last two weeks and he's been cleared for all baseball activities.
"I'm doing great, feeling good," Youkilis said. "I've started to ramp it up as much as I can. I feel great, healthy and I've been lifting with no restrictions."
As soon as Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine arrived at Youkilis' charity event, the two embraced with a big hug.
"He looks good, he'll probably tell you he had a very extensive once-, twice-, and thrice-over by our medical staff," Valentine said. "He liked what they were doing and they liked what they saw, so that's the good news."
Since Valentine was named manager, the two have talked on the phone and exchanged text messages.
"It's exciting to have him on board and he's pumped," Youkilis said. "From what I hear, he's been all over the country and doing all kinds of stuff and it's fun to have him going."
Before this offseason, Youkilis didn't know Valentine on a personal level, but the Sox's third baseman believes spring training will be different, tougher. He figures the focus will be on fundamentals of the game.
"I think he's going to be great," Youkilis said. "I think he's going to bring a winning attitude and he'll get this team going from day one."
Valentine and players alike have all said it will probably take until June before everyone knows one another a lot better. The common theme, however, is the players already know what to expect from their new manager.
"The thing I got from Bobby now is you play the game hard, you play the game right and if you do the little things right, he's going to love you," Youkilis said.
Once the offseason began, Youkilis gave an interview on a local radio station before going into hibernation. He spent the majority of the offseason rehabbing in California in order to be ready for spring training. But during that time, as all fallout continued for the Red Sox organization and swift changes were made, Youkilis was on the outside looking in.
He said on Thursday he was surprised by some of the stories that came out and called it a "witch hunt."
"We're a team and we lose as a team and we all failed," Youkilis said. "There wasn't one player that didn't fail because we lost. We all failed. We're going to make a difference this year and that difference is going to be winning. We're going to go out there and win and hopefully start out winning a lot earlier this year. Last year was a little tough at the beginning."
A major talking point and concern was the notion the clubhouse culture ultimately led to the team's debacle in September, in which the Sox missed the postseason for the second consecutive season.
"I definitely didn't think we had the best vibe in the clubhouse," he said. "It was very different. It was noticeable early, but when you win, winning heals all the wounds. We definitely didn't have the right attitude in a lot of ways, but when you're winning, and everyone always refers to, and I didn't live through that era, but with the Oakland A's and things weren't always right but they went out there and played the game.
"Sometimes it snowballed out of control where we were worrying about things we shouldn't have been worrying about and not playing the game of baseball.
The Red Sox have undergone many changes during the offseason, but the recent trade of shortstop Marco Scutaro to Colorado hit Youkilis on a personal level. The two sat next to each other in the clubhouse and communicated a lot during games on the left side of the infield.
"I texted Marco and he's kind of sad," Youkilis said. "Marco's played for a few different teams and it's not easy for him. I wish Marco the best and he's definitely somebody I'm going to be in touch with for a long time because he's a good guy and plays the game the right way. He'll be missed."
Even though Scutaro is gone, Youkilis said he was excited when the Red Sox acquired infielder, and close friend, Nick Punto.
General manager Ben Cherington, Valentine and many of the players don't even want to think about 2011. The organization wants to move forward and concentrate on 2012 and beyond.
"The good thing is, it's the past and you can correct it," Youkilis said. "You correct injuries, or things like that now, you can't worry about that. What we've got to worry about now, and all my teammates have to worry about, is just going out and coming together and playing hard."
Because of September's collapse and all the offseason changes throughout the organization, the Red Sox, unlike a year ago, are not the odds-on favorites to win the World Series at this point. Youkilis thinks that's a good thing.
There's going to be more competition all around the American League this season and not just in the AL East. Youkilis believes the additions of Albert Pujols in Anaheim and Prince Fielder in Detroit, will take all the hype off the Red Sox and that should allow them to focus on baseball.
"I think we've got a great team," Youkilis said.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis weighed in on his health, new manager Bobby Valentine, and the "witch hunt" following the infamous September collapse.