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Friday, February 15, 2013
Zip your lips, haters: Youk's a Yank

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Kevin Youkilis was the first Yankees regular to check into training camp this spring when he showed up to learn the lay of the land on Thursday afternoon.

On Friday, when most of them were probably still packing their bags for Sunday's official reporting date, Youkilis was out running sprints on a back field at George M. Steinbrenner Field with conditioning coach Dana Cavalea. He returned to the clubhouse soaked in sweat on a chilly day when most of us were wrapped in layers of sweatshirts.

Kevin Youkilis
You never forget your first love. It doesn't mean Yankees fans shouldn't root for ex-Red Sock Kevin Youkilis.

So for anyone, even the most Red Sox-phobic Yankees fan, to question his commitment to his new employers or his intentions as a member of the New York Yankees simply because he spoke the truth on Thursday morning is not only ludicrous, but embarrassing.

We demand honesty and candor from our athletes. Yet when Youkilis quite honestly -- and quite understandably -- said that in his heart he would "always be a Red Sock," many Yankee fans crucified him for it.

It is not unusual for a Yankees third baseman to make it to the back page of the newspapers, and often for some off-the-field transgression, but this was a ridiculously rude introduction to New York City for Youkilis and the kind of thing that reinforces the perception that New Yorkers are bullying blowhards.

And over what? The fact that a guy who had been drafted by the Red Sox as a 21-year-old kid, who had spent the first 8 1/2 years of his professional career in the Red Sox organization and who was part of two World Series championship teams there admits that the team holds a special place in his heart?

Silly, isn't it?

Like Youkilis and the Red Sox, I spent the first 11 years of my career at a certain Long Island daily where I was trained, mentored, brought along and eventually made a columnist.

I eventually left that paper for a New York City daily, and in the 18 years since, I have worked for a half-dozen other news organizations.

And while I worked just as hard for every one of them, I still reserved a special place for that first one, because that's where it all started.

I'm sure many of you have similar stories and can relate.

And those of you who can should be able to understand that retaining affection for your first real job, or your first car, or even your first love, doesn't mean you love the current one any less.

As Joe Girardi said today after Youkilis had "walked back" his comments after being stunned by the reaction, "You can't just erase eight years of anyone's life. I know he's happy to be here, I know he's excited to be here and I know he's going to bring it every day. I know he's got friends there that he's always going to have relationships with. I didn't have a problem with it."

Neither did Youkilis' new teammates, who ribbed him in the clubhouse Friday morning. Andy Pettitte even told Youkilis he'd better have the interlocking "NY" permanently inked onto his chest just to demonstrate how much he now loves being a Yankee.

And if Girardi didn't have a problem with Youkilis' comments, Brian Cashman didn't have a problem with them, CC Sabathia didn't have a problem and Andy Pettitte didn't, then neither should you.

If you want to have a problem with Kevin Youkilis, save it for what he does, or doesn't do, on the field.

The man is a professional baseball player, and like any professional in any field, he can be counted on to give his best effort the employer who is signing his paychecks.

That's not only the way of major league baseball, it's the way of the world.

If you want to pick out a quote to be disturbed by, pick out this one: "I'll never be Alex Rodriguez."

That, too, was an honest quote delivered by an honest man. However he achieved them, the numbers say Alex Rodriguez is one of baseball's all-time great players, while Youkilis is simply very good -- and in truth, you may not want him to be another A-Rod.

But certainly, if you are a Yankee fan, your hope should be that he steps into A-Rod's shoes this season and does as well or better than A-Rod would have done if he were able to play in 2013.

This silliness about his "loyalty" to the Red Sox, or the frequently stated opinion that you can't stomach the thought of Youkilis in pinstripes, is the kind of thing that should have vanished along with the reserve clause, which effectively ended the era of one player, one team for life.

And if that didn't do it, the fact that other Red Sox icons such as Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon and even Roger Clemens, who was hated a lot more in the Yankees clubhouse than Youkilis ever was, came to win championships and be accepted as "True Yankees" should have nipped this firestorm in the bud.

But the reaction to what Youkilis said Thursday -- which was admittedly played up in my own story here, because it was an important quote in terms of demonstrating who Kevin Youkilis is -- shows that we still have a long way to go before fans start to see professional sports teams for what they truly are: businesses whose sole purpose is to entertain us, not enrage us with artificial "loyalties" which really only flow in one direction.

Whether you liked it or not, the Yankees signed Kevin Youkilis because they thought he could help them.

And now, he is one of them, in camp early, days before a lot of the players you revere, and working hard to have a good season in the service of your team.

For at least half the season, he will be your starting third baseman, and quite possibly for longer than that.

Rather than latching on to some honest words as a reason to dislike him, isn't it a better idea to respect -- or at least disregard -- what he said in a news conference and root for him to succeed on the field?