Kevin Youkilis: 2004 World Series title ‘made my life’
|05.28.14 at 9:46 pm ET|
He was a 25-year-old infielder wondering how long he would be toiling for the Red Sox in the minor leagues when he was called up on May 15 in Toronto to fill the void left by Bill Mueller’s trip to the disabled list. He homered in his first game against Toronto righty Pat Hentgen.
The eighth-round pick of the Red Sox in 2001 would play in 72 games in 2004, hit seven homers and drive in 35 runs. He would even get two plate appearances against the Angels in the 2004 ALDS, won by Manny Ramirez on the walk-off homer in Game 3 at Fenway Park.
But Youkilis had a seat in the dugout for the ALCS against the Yankees and the World Series against the Cardinals. With 73 games in four months for the Red Sox in his debut season, the “Greek God of Walks” had himself a World Series ring.
“For me, it changed my life,” Youkilis recalled Wednesday afternoon at Fenway. “I went from making minor league money to all of a sudden making major league money then getting a full share in the World Series. My life changed dramatically. It made my life. In the minor leagues, you’re grinding it out so much, paycheck to paycheck and then you all of a sudden get a little bit of money, it helps you out in so many ways.”
The glamour and attention would eventually lead to a wedding ceremony (never formalized) to Boston socialite Enza Sambataro. After they split, Youkilis would settle down and eventually marry and start a family with Julie Brady, the sister of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
“I look around at a lot of things. That was my first season. When you’re a rookie, you don’t really know what you’re doing. They’re telling you what to do and you’re trying to not mess up as much as possible and trying to conform and make an impression. That year was such an amazing year, winning a World Series. I always joke around about everyone has said, ‘Eighty-six years of heartache,’ and it was like four months for me. This is great. Are we going to do this every year? You finally realize, after we did it again in 2007. And then you realize, later, it’s special and it’s hard to do. And you’re going to have a lot of in-between years. And for the team to do it last year was an amazing feat.”
That title, and the $223,000 share, paid immediate and significant dividends for Youkilis.
“I went to Athletes Performance [training center in Arizona], did things there [because] I could afford to do that,” Youkilis said. “I think just being around great veteran leadership on this team allowed me to learn a lot about being a better ballplayer but also how to prepare myself to be a better ballplayer every day just by watching those guys. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute of just watching those guys swing.”
Certainly, perspective has changed now for Youkilis, to go along with an increased appreciation of the game. Injuries started to creep into his career in the 2010 season with a right thumb injury, that eventually needed surgery. Back issues early in the 2012 season prompted Bobby Valentine to question Youkilis’ motivation. A back strain led to a herniated disk in 2013, limiting Youkilis to 28 games with the Yankees. He would sign a one-year contract with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball this winter. He is back in the States after just 21 games in Japan, hitting .215 with one homer and 21 RBIs before plantar fascitis ended his tour overseas.
The latest injury gave Youkilis the chance to be on hand Wednesday for the 10-year reunion and reflect on just how lucky he was to catch the Red Sox wave at the right time.
“You look at these guys and you see everyone’s definitely a little bit older but probably more mature than when we were winning World Series,” Youkilis said. “I think it’s the fact these were guys were professionals. They went out every day, played the game as hard as they could, let it go, go home to their kids, wives or whatever, come back the next day and go at it again. These guys are good at turning the page. Everyone kept saying turn the page, move on. If we get beat by 12 runs, we’re going to move on and try to beat them by 12 runs. It was just the attitude and veteran leadership that allowed guys to come in each day and work hard.
“There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with sports. If you let it take over your life where in a big market it can do that to a lot of players. Kevin Millar was such a great fit here because, as you know with the show he has now, he loves it. He loves being out in the spotlight, talking baseball, talking to people and that’s why he was such a big part of this team, his willingness to be in that role, to take on that role where other guys did not want to do that. That’s the greatest thing about that team. Those are in the individuals that did the little things, didn’t hit a home run, but that’s the hardest thing about playing in Boston. If you have a lot of guys that are anti-[media], it might not work. Somebody on this team has to fulfill that role and take that leadership role.”
Youkilis couldn’t help but poke fun at the miserable late-May weather that greeted the 2004 Sox Wednesday, gray skies, drizzle and a game-time temperature of 47 degrees.
“It’s a typical day in Boston, right? It’s great,” Youkilis joked. “It’s great to see these guys. It’s crazy to think 10 years have gone by. You sit back and think how quick it goes and all these guys have moved on with their lives. Everyone looks pretty good.”
“Everyone is in pretty good health except for Schill, who we all hope he gets healthy as quick as possible.”
“If there’s anyone who’s going to teach you hitting, who would you rather have than Manny? The way he swings, his preparation, the guy never stopped working on his swing, bettering himself. There’s going to be some kids who will love working with him,” Youkilis said.
“You never know. You never know what people’s aspirations are in life. And I think sometimes, too, some people you think are going to be coaches don’t become coaches and some people you don’t think will become coaches become coaches. You just never know. It’s just one of those games. I didn’t think he’d become a coach right away. Sometimes, guys need a little more time to reflect on doing something else.
“I think preparation is the key to anything in life. Whatever you do in life you have to be prepared. His preparation was to a ‘T’ every day. Even when he was going through his tough times, he was working. There weren’t many [long] slumps but he really would harness going back and looking at video and taking steps he would have to do. I think you can teach that to a lot of guys. His biggest attribute is going to be staying inside the baseball and showing guys how to keep the hands inside the baseball and drive it.”
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