Is This Real Life?: The Kevin Youkilis Story

The first column I wrote for WFAN.com was on Feb. 1, 2010 and it was titled “I’m Going To Miss Johnny Damon.” This past August I wrote a column titled “I Forgive Derek Lowe.” Prior to Game 4 of the ALCS, I was using Curt Schilling’s “Why not us?” slogan and after the Yankees’ season ended following that Game 4, I was tweeting about wanting David Ortiz on the Yankees. Here we are a few months later and I’m writing about how ecstatic I am that the Yankees signed Kevin Youkilis. There’s an 18-year-old, freshman-in-college version of myself from 2004 that’s looking at the 26-year-old 2012 version of me with the same blank stare I looked at the TV in my Somerset Street dorm in Boston when Johnny Damon hit that first-pitch grand slam off Javier Vazquez in Game 7. If you find me writing about wanting the Yankees to make a deal for Josh Beckett prior to the 2013 trade deadline, please one-punch or bottle me. (I know frenemy Mike Hurley is looking for a reason to do either, so you might have to get in line to land the punch to my jaw or break the bottle over my head.)

Yes, it’s real life that Kevin Youkilis is now a Yankee (pending a physical), but the question posed in the title is asking how I could have not only wanted this man on the Yankees, but how I could now be ready to pull for this guy and participate in “KEV-IN” chants for Roll Call and be a fan of the man that I have spent nearly a decade hating.

For three years I have written an All-Animosity Team though I have kept one in my head for a lot longer than three years. In 2010, Youkilis was the first baseman for the team and in 2011 he was the third baseman, and if it weren’t for the existence of Beckett, Youkilis would have been the face of the All-Animosity franchise. It would have been Youkilis and not Beckett on the signs outside the All-Animosity stadium and on the All-Animosity tickets and on the cover of the All-Animosity media guide, and it would have been Youkilis’ jersey that all the kids would be wearing to the All-Animosity Team’s games. But unfortunately for Kevin Youkilis, and really for all of us, Josh Beckett is who he is.

Here’s what I wrote about Youkilis for the first All-Animosity Team on WFAN.com on April 16, 2010.

First base: Kevin Youkilis plays the game hard, and he is the textbook example for a guy you’d love on your team, but hate to see playing against your team. His entire look, demeanor, unorthodox batting stance and approach to the game is worth despising, and that’s before you factor in his .317 career average against the Yankees. Youkilis has taken over as the most feared hitter in the Red Sox lineup, becoming one of the toughest outs in baseball, and therefore my disgust with him has grown ten fold.

And here’s what I wrote about Youkilis for the second All-Animosity Team for WFAN.com on April 8, 2011.

Third Base: I don’t think I need to explain why Kevin Youkilis is still here. Just focus on him for 30 seconds during a Yankees-Red Sox game and you’ll understand.

Youkilis didn’t make the roster in 2012 because I created the team on June 6 rather than in April like the previous two years and the day I wrote it, Youkilis had played in just 31 games and was hitting .236/.315/.382 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. His Red Sox career had started making its way toward the exit with Bobby Valentine as his escort and the timing for my writing and Youkilis’ season couldn’t have been worse for his bid at three straight teams. Even without cracking the All-Animosity roster, Youkilis still made the column. Here’s what I wrote about Youkilis on June 6.

Kevin Youkilis is the only player to make the All-Animosity Team at two different positions. This will likely be written on his All-Animosity Hall of Fame plaque.

There will be a fourth All-Animosity Team during the 2013 season, but Youkilis won’t be a part of it. And for as weird as this is for me and I’m assuming all Yankee fans, Youkilis has to be weirded out, skeptical, uncertain and worried about all of this and putting on the pinstripes as well like Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) handing his passport to the U.S. customs official at the end of Inception.

The first time the Yankees visited Fenway Park in 2009, I was still living in Boston and I decided to spend a ridiculous amount of money that I couldn’t afford to spend to sit behind home plate for the Friday, April 24 night game. Up until that night when I sat behind home I had really own seen disastrous, heart-breaking games for the Yankees in Fenway. Here are some of them.

May 18, 1999 – Joe Torre returns to the Yankees after missing the beginning of the season to battle prostate cancer. David Cone and Pedro Martinez go toe-to-toe, but trailing 3-2 late, Jason Grimsley can’t keep it close as he gives up three runs in the bottom of the eighth.

April 16, 2004 – In the first meeting of the season, Javier Vazquez gives up two home runs in the first inning and three total as the Yankees are shut down by Tim Wakefield over seven innings. Oh yeah, Kenny Lofton led off for the Yankees. He went 0-for-5.

Oct 18, 2004 – Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, which also happens to be the third-worst night of my life. The second being Game 6 and the first being Game 7.

April 14, 2005 – Randy Johnson gets lit up for five runs and Tom Gordon turns a 5-5 tie into an 8-5 loss with an embarrassing eighth inning. And to top it all off, Gary Sheffield brawls with some fans in right field.

May 1, 2006 – Johnny Damon returns to Boston as Friendly Fenway’s center field gets littered with money. Tied 3-3 in the eighth, Tanyon Sturtze gives up the go-ahead run. With two men on and David Ortiz due up, Joe Torre calls for the Mike Myers, the lefty specialist and the man the Yankees acquired for the sole purpose of facing Ortiz. Ortiz cranks a three-run home run into the New England night.

April 22, 2007 – After losing the first two games of the series, the Yankees take a 3-0 lead in the rubber match on Sunday Night Baseball. But after holding the Red Sox scoreless for the first two innings, rookie Chase Wright allows Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek to go back-to-back-to-back-to-back on him to take a 4-3 lead. The Yankees would take the lead back in the sixth only to have Scott Proctor give up a three-run home run to Lowell in the seventh.

Looking back, I don’t think I had ever seen the Yankees win at Fenway Park entering the 2009 season. And that streak didn’t end right away either. That Friday night when I spent money I couldn’t afford to spend, I watched the worst game in Fenway since Oct. 18, 2004.

The Yankees led 4-2 in the ninth with two outs and Mariano Rivera on the mound and Kevin Youkilis on first base. Jason Bay swung at a 1-0 pitch from number 42 and it landed over the wall in straightaway center at Fenway. I knew the Yankees weren’t going to win that game, but I stayed to watch the horror unfold in extra innings.

Sure enough, in the 11th inning Damaso Marte’s left arm grooved the most hittable pitch in major league history right down the middle for Kevin Youkilis and when Youkilis made contact, I knew the ball wasn’t going to land in Fenway and I wasn’t sure if it was even going to land at all. I’m still not sure it ever landed. If it did, it probably ended up in the living room of a Newbury Street apartment. And to top things off, I lost my ID and wasn’t able to go to a bar and drink my sorrows away.

I didn’t go to Fenway for the Saturday afternoon game the following day, which might have been my best decision of 2009 (besides missing the Opening Day disaster at the Stadium). Why was it such a good decision? Well, the Yankees held a 6-0 lead in the fourth inning before A.J. Burnett showed us for the first time just who A.J. Burnett could be as he gave up a grand slam to Jason Varitek (no, that’s not a typo) as part of the eight runs he would allow over his final two innings of work. The Yankees lost 16-11.

But I did go to Fenway the next night for Sunday Night Baseball and my streak continued when Andy Pettitte fell apart in the fifth inning and with Jacoby Ellsbury on third base and David Ortiz on second, after doubling in the go-ahead run, Pettitte allowed Ellsbury to steal home on him. I watched the whole thing happen in slow motion from my seat on the first-base line.

Nearly two months later, I watched the Yankees lose again at Fenway. It was June 10 and Chien-Ming Wang continued the worst season ever and was relieved by Phil Hughes, which ended up being a move and decision that would save the Yankees’ season.

If you don’t remember, the Yankees opened 0-8 against the Red Sox in 2009. This came following a year in which the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and the Red Sox had come within one win of their second straight World Series appearance and third since the Yankees had last reached the Series in 2003. The Red Sox had developed players the way the Yankees used to and it seemed like maybe I would be on the other end of nearly a century of losing. Sure, none of this happened, but on June 11, 2009 when the Yankees were 0-8 against the Red Sox (despite being 34-18 against everyone else) it seemed like a real possibility. It seemed like a real possibility in the same way as October 2006 when the Mets might become the more successful New York baseball team and in 2009 and 2010 when it seemed like the Jets would become the more successful New York football team. Again, none of this happened. Thankfully.

Kevin Youkilis represented change in the shift of power in the AL East, the way Frank Lucas represented a shift of power in the heroin game in New York City. And when I think of Youkilis and Pedroia and Ellsbury and how I felt in the middle of 2009 before they were swept by the Angels and before they didn’t reach the playoffs in 2010, 2011 or 2012, I can’t help, but think about the exchange between Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) at the end of American Gangster.

Richie: The only thing they hate more than you is what you represent.

Frank: I don’t represent nothing.

Richie: You don’t? Black businessman like you? Of course you do. But once you’re gone, things can return to normal.

I had grown accustomed to the Red Sox being so bad for so long that their success from 2003 through 2008 and their finding new ways to embarrass the Yankees early in 2009 kept me up at night. With John Henry tweeting about The Curse of Mark Teixeira, it was impossible to not look at Youkilis and Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester and wonder how long this would continue or if it would ever end and if things would ever return to normal.

I said back in August that “Derek Lowe on the Yankees puts a little dent into what happened on those four nights. No, it doesn’t erase it because nothing ever will, but it helps to cope with what happened. Johnny Damon shaving his head and pointing during Roll Call and becoming a Red Sox killer and stealing third base against the Phillies and getting doused in champagne in the Yankees clubhouse put a massive dent in it.” Youkilis and David Ortiz had been the only remaining pieces of the 2004 team as of last year, even if Youkilis played as much of a role in the ’04 postseason (0-for-2 with a strikeout) as me. But what Youkilis did for the Red Sox from 2006 on and how big of a role he played in changing the culture of who the Red Sox became (not so much anymore) and what they represent (also, not so much anymore) means a dent right around the size of Damon’s.

I have always hated the “YOUUUUUUUUUK!” cheers as much as I have hated “Sweet Caroline” and the way I hated Jonathan Papelbon pounding the bullpen police officer before running to the mound. But once upon a time I also hated Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe. I have spent the last nine summers hating Kevin Youkilis, but I will spend this summer pulling for those nine-pitch at-bats that result in a double in the gap the way they tortured me for so many years. So I guess there’s only one thing to do.

“YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUK!” Welcome to New York. Just don’t ask for number 20.

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