Wednesday, April 23, 2014
BOSTON - When Dean Rogers first announced Kevin Youkilis as the batter, there was curiosity, but not a lot of emotion.
But that was nine years ago, when Youkilis was an intriguing prospect, playing third base for the Boston Red Sox's new Double-A affiliate in Portland.
Rogers, the Portland Sea Dogs public address announcer, was filling in Sunday at Fenway Park. He announced Youkilis' name when he first came to bat in the second inning.
Initially, there were the usual calls of "Yooouuuk" that always sound at first like boos.
But along with the chant came applause. Then it got louder. Fans were standing.
Youkilis, the subject of growing trade rumors, tipped his helmet to the crowd.
"After he got that ovation, we were sitting next to each other (in the dugout)," said teammate and friend Nick Punto. "He said, 'man that was hard to hit after that. That felt pretty good.'
"He hasn't been feeling too great about himself this season."
No he hasn't. Youkilis has not been the batter he's used to being. A sore back put him on the disabled list in May. When he came back, he discovered his replacement, Will Middlebrooks, was a real threat to his job.
As Middlebrooks kept hitting -- and Youkilis kept struggling -- the idea of trading Youkilis took root.
"Sort of an evolution" was how General Manager Ben Cherington described the trade talks that eventually sent Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
Cherington had been working on a trade seriously for the last three days. In the seventh inning Sunday, Cherington appeared in the runway between the clubhouse and the dugout and summoned Manager Bobby Valentine.
"Ben said there's a situation pending," Valentine said. "We said OK, we'll do it the right way."
Youkilis was due to bat in the bottom of the seventh. If he got on base, Valentine would send out a pinch runner so the fans could acknowledge him one more time. If he did not reach base, Valentine would send Youkilis out to third base in the eighth, then sub him out before the inning started.
"The players were on alert to be ready when he got to the dugout," Valentine said.
Youkilis tripled on a ball misplayed in right-center. Valentine sent out Punto to pinch-run.
Although a new member of the Red Sox this year, Punto has been a good friend of Youkilis for 10 years.
The two players embraced in the middle of the infield.
This was no regular substitution, and the fans caught on quickly, standing, applauding.
"It doesn't surprise me with these fans," Punto said. "They have great instincts. They showed it there."
Punto got a little choked up as he replayed the experience.
"For me it was kind of a good-bye. It's always hard," Punto said. "I know how much blood, sweat and tears he's poured into this organization."
In his days at Hadlock Field, Youkilis was a subject of debate among scouts. He did not seem to have any outstanding skills -- not a five-tool player -- but he kept producing at the plate.
And he developed himself into a prospect, then a major leaguer, and then more. Fans loved his all-out play, and the Yooouuuk chant became legend.
"I think his legacy is that he's a passionate player," Cherington said. "He went from a good player to an All-Star through sheer force of will and hard work."
After Youkilis hugged Punto, he approached a dugout full of waiting players. Dustin Pedroia gave him a prolonged embrace.
"It's tough," Pedroia said. "I know how hard he's played. He's given everything he has in every game he's ever put on the Red Sox uniform. It's sad.
"He pushed me every day. I wanted to go out there and play hard, just like he does."
Cody Ross eventually got his turn to hug Youkilis.
"It brought a tear to my eye, that's for sure," Ross said. "He had some tears in his eyes.
"I got goose bumps. It was a special time. I know how much he means to this city."
As for the man who is replacing Youkilis, Middlebrooks said little. Sunday was a big moment for him -- the day the Red Sox officially handed him the starting third baseman's job. But he knew better than to gloat.
After the game, before the trade was officially announced, Middlebrooks had little comment: "I don't know. Nothing's final. I'm approaching every day like I have been."
But Middlebrooks did praise Youkilis for his role as a mentor.
"Words can't explain it," Middlebrooks said. "He's taken me under his wing and showed me the ways, and really made me feel comfortable."
It was a good day for Middlebrooks, and maybe a good day for Youkilis, too. He will get a chance to play in Chicago, and his legacy is secure here.
And the Fenway crowd has not seen the last of Youkilis. The White Sox play a four-game series in Boston July 16-19.
Pedroia reminded Youkilis of that as they hugged.
"I just said I loved him and I'll see him in July," Pedroia said.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: