- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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So Kevin Youkilis said on his first official day as a Yankee that he'll always be a "Red Sock" at heart? On the list of crimes in the sports world, this is a misdemeanor. And Youkilis had the good sense to clarify what he meant right after he showed up again for work on Friday. Still, somebody should've pulled Youkilis aside before he arrived at spring training and told him that he doesn't want -- and the Yankees shouldn't want -- his stay here looking like the second coming of Tom Glavine's turncoat years with the Mets. New Yorkers remember the moral of that story: Love the one you're with.
By the time Glavine came to a fiery end in the Mets' historically bad September 2007 collapse -- serving up a horrifically bad one-third-of-an-inning start on the final day of the season, and then infamously promising he was not going to torture himself over it the rest of his life -- it was easy for scalded Mets fans to say get out, already. Just go.
Go back to Atlanta on that midnight train or Peachtree Center bus or whatever TNT corporate jet you arrived on. No more batting your eyelashes at your old franchise every time the Mets pulled into town to play their arch-nemesis. No more lamenting how his stay here had a cloud of karmic doom hanging over it from the minute he left the Braves in a snit -- angry that general manager John Schuerholz didn't pay him what the Mets were willing to give him -- and busted up his dental work on that cab ride after he got here.
Glavine still lived in Atlanta. His family was there. He had a legacy with the Braves that he cherished, and there were times during his 61-56 run over five seasons with the Mets when he'd drop hints that he wanted to return. No wonder the Mets and their fans were feeling a bit chapped by the time he left.
Youkilis left Boston under uncomfortable circumstances, too. He didn't want to go after eight-and-a-half seasons. Not really. But after former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine questioned the veteran's effort and commitment, Youkilis was traded to the White Sox last June because the breach between the two men seemed irreparable. His first series against the Red Sox back at Fenway Park was an emotional scene. The chants of "Youk!" boomed out, same as they ever had. He got rousing ovations throughout the series, and a game-winning hit. Even a lot of Red Sox lovers took delight in saying, "Take that, Bobby V."
But then Valentine was gone mere months after Youkilis was. And now there's this sad little feeling still hanging in the air that none of it had to happen -- to Youkilis, I mean. It's understandable.
But the truth is, the play of Will Middlebrooks, Boston's young and far cheaper third baseman, made Youkilis expendable. And he has broken down the last couple of years. He took a one-year, $12 million contract with the Yankees because it was the best offer he got. It's not like the whole league was clamoring for his services at this stage of his career.
So now that he pulled the trigger and he's here, Youk -- are we allowed to call him that, or does that stay in Boston too? -- might want to ask around for a little friendly advice on how to handle this from someone other than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, his brother-in-law. Brady's only experience of making nice with New York is buying a pied-a-terre in the West Village and not being mocked for his Uggs.
Johnny Damon's example, once he jumped from the Red Sox to the Yankees, is the better example to follow. Damon always acted like he was all-in when he was here. Yanks fans missed him when he left.
After watching Youkilis' gritty play for years, it's hard to believe any conflicted feelings will roll through his mind once the games begin. His explanation to reporters Friday in Tampa was totally believable: "It wasn't meant to be like that. It was talking about the history of who I am. I think the Yankee fans are going to love the fact that every day I'm going to bust my butt and get dirty on the field and do all that stuff. It wasn't meant to be anything like, 'My heart is in Boston,' because honestly it wasn't there. My heart is in New York. I'm excited to live in the city. I'm excited for the whole experience."
Still, Youkilis was smart to realize that even as soft rollouts go, opening spring training by saying, "I'm not going to replace Alex Rodriguez" and "I'll always be a Red Sock" was not the most bang-up start. Regarding A-Rod, he might've gone too far the other way.
Did Youkilis forget A-Rod isn't even A-Rod anymore? They played the same number of games (122) a season ago and -- what do you know? -- their stats were nearly identical: Rodriguez hit 18 home runs, Youkilis hit 19; A-Rod had 57 RBIs to Youkilis' 60; A-Rod hit .272, while Youkilis finished at .235. They each had 51 walks.
So no need to tiptoe into town, Youk. Bang your chest a little. And don't make the gaffe Glavine did. Better to say nothing if you can't fake it even a little.
Love the one you're with.
Kevin Youkilis needs to embrace New York, the way Johnny Damon did.