Breaking Balls: Kevin Youkilis — They can never tear us apart
It’s midnight on Sunday night and I am sitting at my computer listening to depressing indie rock music trying to come to grips with the news that Kevin Youkilis is no longer on the Boston Red Sox.
I know some of you don’t like when I talk about the Red Sox being my favorite team (right, Sergio Severo?). And somehow the Red Sox have replaced the Yankees as the team America hates the most. Hell, the Yankees just went on a 10-game winning streak and nobody cared. But if Josh Beckett plays a round of golf, the world acts like it’s been set on fire. Maybe it’s not just the Red Sox, but the whole Boston-area thing with the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots – or maybe it’s just Ben Affleck.
But this isn’t a column about a city or a team. This is about a human person named Kevin Youkilis – a baseball player who, until earlier today, just happened to be my favorite player on my favorite team.
If all this Kevin Youkilis stuff annoys you, then just replace his name with Albert Pujols or Lance Berkman or Carlos Beltran or any other beloved player who was on your team but left to play for someone else – so probably not Vernon Wells, right, Toronto?
Earlier today Kevin … I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Kevin, but after all we’ve been through together, I feel like it would be awkward for me to call him anything else … anyway, Kevin was traded to the Chicago White Sox. This is one of the dangers of sports fandom. He was my favorite player on my favorite team, but the main reason he was my favorite player was because he was on my favorite team. So, now what the hell am I supposed to do?
Kevin was one of the last remaining players from the World Series winning 2004 Boston team and had produced a level of offense that seemed to far exceed his physical attributes. He was repeatedly a league-leader in getting on base. In the book “Moneyball,” he was referred to as “the Greek God of Walks.” I don’t even know if he’s actually Greek, but it’s not really racist to assign an incorrect nationality to someone and it’s an awesome nickname.
This year and last were rough for Kevin with the Red Sox. He had been moved off of first base to third base with the arrival of Adrian Gonzalez and all that extra moving around at third base seemed to be a bit much for him and a series of nagging injuries ensued. During one of his recent trips to the disabled list early this year, young prospect Will Middlebrooks was called up to replace him and excelled at the plate and was fair enough in the field.
And with Kevin having trouble batting when he returned – striking out at such an alarming rate he was more like the Greek God of Wind – the baseball world all figured out pretty quick that his days with the team were numbered.
Sunday was Kevin’s last game for Boston. And before the trade was announced, he ended his career with the Red Sox by hitting a triple deep into the Fenway Park outfield. The manager pulled him from the game, and he received a huge standing ovation and was hugged by all his teammates. Everyone knew. I’ve watched the video of it all a few times already and even now, as I’m writing about it, it’s getting pretty dusty in here. It’s one of those magical moments that encapsulates why I follow sports and what players mean to their fans and teammates.
Kevin has won two rings, made millions of dollars and been a celebrated sports hero. He even married Tom Brady’s sister earlier this year. I’m not expecting anyone to feel bad for him. No. But I am expecting everyone to feel bad for me.
I’m a mess about this. Even with all the advance notice and the trade winds blowing, somehow I was just hoping it would all work out. However, I guess most things in sports don’t really work out. This happened to my previous favorite player on the Red Sox: Nomar Garciaparra. That was a little different because Nomar had become a bit of a turd and needed to be flushed. Later, Nomar would end up on the Dodgers, and since I live in Los Angeles, I could root for him again.
For now, Kevin is on the White Sox. I don’t really care one way or the other about the White Sox. I guess that’s better than if he wound up on some team I hate. Okay, now we’ve got some positivity going here. I wish he had been traded somewhere he could play first base and take it a little easier. Of course I wish he had never been traded at all.
I feel like I’m the guy that broke up with a girl and they both claimed it was mutual, but really it was her decision and I would have been happy as a clam to stay together. Now, I feel weird because I’m comparing trading away a player to ending a relationship. But it is! I have all these stupid feelings and emotions and I’m biting my lip and hoping the best for him and that he is able to find happiness in his new home without me.
Oh wait! This is actually more like when a close friend moves away. Your close friend gets a job in another city or his special lady does or maybe he just needs to try out something new because the blood-sucking leeches of Los Angeles have taken their toll and literally any other city with indoor plumbing would be better. You want him to find happiness in his new city, of course, but part of you wishes he’d just stay and you could go grab a bite at the 101 Café in Hollywood and make fun of the stupid hipsters and complain about the overpriced burgers. Yeah, this Kevin thing is like a friend – not a former lover. Phew! That was getting weird there.
In a way, I’m actually excited for Kevin. The Boston situation has been toxic for some time now – going back to last season – and the organization is flailing around like a skater kid jacked up on Red Bull careening into on-coming traffic as his friends stand by and video it to upload on YouTube. Last offseason, the team dumped manager Terry Francona – who only helped them win two championships – and smeared his name on the way out. And then replaced him with Bobby Valentine – which I still assume is some sort of elaborate joke and I’m waiting for the punch line.
I think the change of scenery will do Kevin some good. And getting away from the sinking ship named the S.S. Red Sox will make his life off the field a lot easier. I’m sure he’ll at least enjoy not having to see Valentine running amok. I hope he goes to Chicago, stays healthy, slugs the crap out of the ball and walks walks walks.
Then, at the end of the season, he’s a free agent, and he can go wherever he thinks he’ll be happiest. No matter where he ends up, I’ll be rooting for my friend Kevin. And maybe – just maybe – my friend will swing on out to the West Coast and join the Dodgers like Nomar before him.
But, now what? The players leave but the team moves ahead. Who will be my new favorite player? Maybe it will be the feisty Dustin Pedroia or the stoic Adrian Gonzalez or the magnificently handsome Jacoby Ellsbury – okay, sorry, it’s getting weird again. It’s going to take a while for me to sort all this out. It probably won’t be Middlebrooks though – how can it be him after he helped run my friend out of town?
And now, it’s two in the morning and I’m feeling better, and it’s time for some much-needed sleep. But not before I watch that video of his final game one more time – regardless of how dusty it gets in here.