Saturday, June 23, 2012
A Will and a way out for Youk
By Joe McDonald ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- The prospect of being traded from the only organization he's known in his professional career doesn't seem to bother Red Sox veteran Kevin Youkilis at this point.
Kevin Youkilis appears to be on the outside looking in at this point.
He simply wants to play baseball every day.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine has stripped Youkilis of his playing time lately, mainly because Will Middlebrooks has been on a tear both offensively and defensively ever since the rookie was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on May 5 while Youkilis was on the disabled list with a back strain.
It's also been quite evident all season long that there's no love lost between Valentine and Youkilis. That notion became increasingly apparent on Saturday afternoon when Valentine was asked why Youkilis was benched for the third consecutive game in favor of Middlebrooks.
"I'm just trying to play the people that I want to be in the lineup," Valentine said. "I think that's one of the things I'm allowed to do."
Youkilis didn't take to kindly to the fact he wasn't playing again Saturday. He said that the situation "has been addressed" but didn't want to comment too much on his issues with Valentine's decision.
Not only is he sitting out, but he's also dealing with the likelihood he'll be traded in the near future.
Prior to beating the Atlanta Braves 8-4 on Saturday as Middlebrooks went 3-for-4, including a single, double, home run and two RBIs, Youkilis was asked about his time with the Red Sox.
He responded by saying: "Is this a goodbye? I'm not dead."
The problem for Youk is that Middlebrooks is very much alive.
"He's been great," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He's picked up the slack when we've had some guys down and he's stepped in and performed. He's been unbelievable for us. He's been a huge part of our offense."
The deafening speculation that the Red Sox are on the verge of trading Youkilis hasn't fazed Middlebrooks, who has been producing in a big way at the plate.
"I don't care. I really don't," Middlebrooks said of the trade rumors surrounding Youkilis. "I'm here to play baseball. I'm not here to be an analyst, that's you guys. I'll let you do your job and I'll do mine."
He's been doing his job well this season. He's reached base safely in 20 of 21 games since May 23 and is batting .385 with four homers and 17 RBIs during that span. Overall, he's hitting .331 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 40 games with the Red Sox this season.
Middlebrooks is the first American League player with 33 RBIs in his first 40 major league games since Wally Joyner accomplished the feat with 38 RBIs for the Angels in 1986. Middlebrooks' nine homers are the most by a Red Sox in his first 40 games in the past 25 years.
Will Middlebrooks keeps squaring up baseballs, including this home run vs. the Braves on Saturday.
"Will's been a special guy when he's at the plate," said Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. "He's pretty darn good out there. It's fun to watch him hit. He's strong and he stays behind the ball real well."
Despite Youkilis' tough situation, the consummate professional has been a major supporter of the rookie.
"He's been awesome," Middlebrooks said. "He's helped me out so much. Not just baseball, but off the field, too, just how to handle everything."
Youkilis was considered the can't-miss prospect when he first arrived in the majors in 2004 and became a member of the first World Series team for the Red Sox in 86 years.
In his first 40 games in the majors, he posted a .295 average with four homers, 20 RBIs, nine doubles, 26 runs and 21 walks.
Anyone who's around him can tell Youkilis is not happy that he's not playing, but his teammates know he's been handling the situation properly.
"Very professional, man," Pedroia said. "Youk wants to win. I know his situation's tough right now but he's done everything first-class."
When Youkilis first reached the big leagues, veterans such as Trot Nixon, Bill Mueller, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek helped his transition and made sure he did everything the Red Sox way. Youkilis has never forgotten the advice and guidance he received then, and he's trying to pass it along to the younger players on the club now, including Middlebrooks and Ryan Kalish.
"Working with Will and Ryan and all the young guys is fun to help them out, because sometimes they need it," Youkilis said. "It's fresh to them and they're going to make mistakes like veterans make mistakes on the field. They look up to the veterans. And some of the mistakes that we made earlier on in our career, we had a veteran come up to us and tell us what to do."
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Youkilis realized well before this season that Middlebrooks would be his successor in Boston. The veteran prepared himself accordingly, and it appears the move has finally come to fruition under Valentine's watch. As frustrated as he may be with management, Youkilis is not faulting Middlebrooks.
"When you play this game you're an ambassador to the game and the players, so you have to be that way and you can't be selfish if you're not playing," Youkilis said. "You've got to teach these guys how to play the game because someday we're all going to be retired and these guys are going to be playing. Then there will be guys after them, so if they can pass along the messages to the guys after them, that's the key. I was taught that in 2004 by some great players here and I'm just trying to pass along the knowledge that was given to me."
If Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington does in fact trade him, Youkilis will move on and succeed wherever he plays. When asked how he would describe his career with the Red Sox since the organization drafted him in the eighth round of the 2001 amateur draft, Youkilis said: "I've definitely hit all the ups and downs. I could probably describe it better 10 years down the road. When you're in it, you really can't describe what you're in. Somebody's going to have to remind me of a lot of times here. I'll ask Pedey. Pedey remembers everything. You see it all and it's to be continued, I guess."
It appears the torch has been passed. The Greek God of Walks could be walking out of Fenway Park very soon. If that's the case, he'll leave a strong legacy, one he hopes Middlebrooks continues.
There's no doubt he will.