Monday, June 25, 2012
Kevin Youkilis adjusting to new team
By Ben Goessling
Special To ESPNChicago.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin Youkilis joined his new team in the visitors' clubhouse at Target Field on Monday afternoon, and it was immediately clear it was going to take some time for him to put his old team behind him.
Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn had somehow gotten ahold of the Boston Red Sox jersey Youkilis wore in his final game before getting traded from Boston to Chicago on Sunday afternoon. Dunn worked out in the jersey, strolled into the White Sox's clubhouse with it on and draped it over Youkilis' chair.
"I already had my sweat and tears and mud from yesterday (in it)," Youkilis said. "And then Dunn went out and started throwing the ball. Hopefully he put some more good sweat on it, and we'll just have to frame it one day."
With his exit from Boston still swirling across sports talk-show airwaves, Youkilis tried on Monday afternoon to adjust to his new surroundings as best he could. He was slated to hit second for the White Sox in their new-look lineup on Monday night against the Minnesota Twins, and had recouped his No. 20 from outfielder Jordan Danks, who was quickly told, "You're not 20 anymore" after the trade.
The uniform hijinks aside, Youkilis set to work trying to feel comfortable with a new team on Monday.
"It definitely was not an easy time for me," he said. "It was tough for my family, to try to figure out where we're going. But it's a great thing to be in a great city in Chicago. I'm very fortunate to play for two baseball teams that have such storied franchises."
Youkilis was 1-for-4 in his White Sox debut, singling to center in the eighth inning.
The 33-year-old Youkilis had been struggling all season, hitting just .233 in 42 games with the Red Sox, battling back problems and fielding criticism from Boston manager Bobby Valentine. But he said a workout program has helped his back, and he came to Chicago looking to prove he can still play at the same level he did during three All-Star seasons with the Red Sox.
"Hopefully I can come to the White Sox and bring it day in and day out, playing the game hard and playing the right way," he said. "I can't guarantee the stats and all that, but I know one thing: I'll come out here every day, play the game right and give it my all. Hopefully that's enough, and the stats can end up on a higher note."
Youkilis declined to discuss his relationship with Valentine, saying "we're past that, I'm here and that that's. We're just leaving it behind."
But leaving Boston itself behind, Youkilis said, wouldn't be nearly as easy. With his thick beard, his distinct batting stance and the plate patience that earned him the nickname "the Greek God of Walks," he became a favorite amongst Boston's passionate fans.
He called his exit from Sunday's game, when he was lifted for a pinch-runner after a triple and took a curtain call at Fenway Park, "probably the most emotional thing I've ever gone through on a baseball field."
"It was definitely very surreal, and hit me like a ton of bricks when I got pinch-ran for," Youkilis said. "It was a great send-off. The Red Sox fans were unbelievable. They've always been unbelievable to me. I can't thank them enough for all the great years I had there, how they treated my family and friends. A lot of great memories."
His new surroundings will also bring something of a new position -- Youkilis will play third base, where he's only played on a regular basis in one of his nine seasons. But with Paul Konerko and Dunn entrenched at first, and the White Sox in need of help at third, Youkilis will find more playing time there than he was getting in Boston.
"For us he plays third base," Ventura said. "He can go over to first if we need it. He's hit in the clutch, been in big games in big markets. So none of it is going to overwhelm him at all."
Youkilis could get a better chance to be part of a pennant race in Chicago than he did in Boston. The teams came into Monday with identical 38-34 records, but Chicago's mark was good enough for a half-game lead in the weak AL Central, while Boston's record was the fourth-best in the AL East, 5½ games behind the division-leading Yankees.
If he's able to help nudge the White Sox toward the playoffs, he could also prove he's still got more left than people might have thought.
He hasn't played more than 120 games since 2009, the last time he hit more than 20 home runs and garnered MVP votes. Whether he's still capable of that level of performance remains to be seen. But Youkilis is eager to try and find out.
"There's a lot of talk, saying, 'You can't play baseball anymore.' I think I can," he said. "I think I can play at a high level and I think I can go out there. Talk is one thing, and I'm going to have to go out there and prove it with my actions."