YOUK’S BACK

     That’s the major concern these days for Kevin Youkilis and the Red Sox.  The three time All Star is in the midst of a rehab assignment with the PawSox.  On Wednesday night, Youk went 1-2, with a double and a walk.  Youk showed no ill-effects and seemed to swing the bat well.  During batting practice, he routinely deposited pitch after pitch over the 32 foot high wall at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.  Kevin is scheduled to play third base for Pawtucket on Thursday as his rehab continues.

     Before the rest of the media converged upon him, we sat down and had the chance to talk.  I’ve known Kevin since 2004 and have marveled at his achievements.  He was pretty clear.  His back was feeling fine.  “I feel great.  Ready to rock.  Just get off the rehab assignment as quick as possible and get back up and play for the Red Sox soon.”  Youk felt that there were no limitations or restrictions to hold him back. “I feel good.  I can do everything baseball-wise.  I’m just excited to do as much as possible and play some games here.”

     Youkilis and I last spoke in Fort Myers and he was eager to “turn the page” on the 2011 season.  He finds it frustrating to be injured again.  “It’s definitely frustrating.  You want to win games and stay healthy.  I think this is more precautionary than anything.  I’ve felt good for a while.  Trying to get healthy for the long run.  The Red Sox are picking it up a little bit, starting to win.  The key is pitching.  If we get good pitching, we’re going to win.  We’ve got plenty of offense.”

     Kevin Youkilis has come a long way since he was known as the “Greek God of Walks”.  He was won two World Series rings, a Gold Glove, a Hank Aaron Award and has finished as high as third in the American League MVP voting (2008).  He hesitated momentarily when asked to put into perspective.  “It’s definitely been a long time.  ’04 seems like it was yesterday, but the more I see guys come and go…the other day (Doug) Mirabelli was back (to help honor Tim Wakefield), it seems like it’s far away, with all the players that have come and gone since I’ve been here.  In one aspect, it seems like yesterday.  On the other hand, it’s been a long time.”  Youkilis continues to reminisce.  “There have been great years. ’04 and ’07.  Some good years too.  In ’08 we went to game 7 of the ALCS.  A lot of great times.  It’s weird.  I never think about it until after the season.  It probably won’t sink in until my career’s over.  Hopefully not for another 3 or 4 years.  It’s hard to put into perspective right now.  Going through the everyday grind now, you tend not to think about it.”

     Kevin Youkilis has gone from being the “kid” to the 33 year old veteran.  The emergence of Will Middlebrooks hasn’t helped.  Talk show hosts and “experts” are calling for a “changing of the guard” at third base.  Youk takes it all in stride.  “I just go out and do my job.  I can’t worry about that stuff.  Just have to get healthy, get some at bats and play the best I can play.  Those decisions are made from the front office.  For me, I just go out and play baseball, hopefully with the Red Sox.  There’s been a lot of talk about it and a lot of stuff put out in the media.  It’s not a bad thing.  You’ve got a player that’s playing well and you want him to do well.”

     One of Youks’ trademarks is his fiery demeanor and the emotion with which he plays.  Earlier this season, Bobby Valentine questioned his physical and emotional commitment.  Ridiculous to anyone who has ever watched him play.  Although he has admitted in the past that he was surprised by the comments, Youk refused to comment further in Durham.  “I really don’t want to discuss that.  It’s in the books.  I think that everyone knows how hard I play and how much pride I take in my game.  It’s in the past and nothing to worry about.”  Conversely, Youk appreciated the support he got from teammates like Dustin Pedroia.  “We’ve got a good group of guys up in Boston.  A lot of guys have become pretty close.  We have fun taking the field and we also have fun in the clubhouse, enjoying the game and talking about the game.  We also talk about other things, like life.  A lot of guys are fathers.  They’ve got outside things with their children and families.  We’ve got a good group of guys that really get along.  It’s pretty cool.  It’s good to have guys that are together and want to show up every day and see each other.”

     Youkilis is under contract with Boston until the end of this season, with a club option for 2013.  With trade specualtion swirling and questions about his health being asked, Youk just wants to get back to playing and let the chips fall where they may.  He says he’d like to be a Red Sox for life.  “Yeah. I think it’s a cool thing to play with one team for your whole career.  It doesn’t happen a lot anymore.  It would be a cool thing.  Sometimes, though, decisions are made that are outside of your control.  For me, and the things that I can control-  play the game as hard as I can day in and day out.  If it’s with the Red Sox, that’s great.  If it’s not, there are 29 other teams out there, but my first choice is the Red Sox.”

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