When it comes to Boston fans being tolerant of a former Red Sox playing for the Yankees, it gets tricky for Kevin Youkilis.
First of all, there’s the “Youk! Youk!” chant, which could easily be switched to “Boo! Boo!” and sound almost the same.
Then there’s the small fact that Youkilis was traded from the Red Sox to the White Sox, who decided not to re-sign him. He did have an offer from the Indians, but he chose the Yankees. Let’s see how tolerant Red Sox fans will be when he’s playing third base and introduced at Fenway Park July 19.
Youkilis, who signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Yankees as basically a sub while Alex Rodriguez recuperates from hip surgery, spoke to the New York media Friday for the first time since signing.
Youkilis addressed the issue of how fans from both cities will react to him, but didn’t seem to be concerned.
“You can’t control what people are going to think about you,” Youkilis said in a conference call. “All you can control is what you’re doing in the game. I think over the years I’ve had a lot of Yankee fans come up to me and say ‘Hey, I’m a huge Yankee fan but I like the way you play the game.’ I’m going to play as hard as I can every day and I think a lot of fans will appreciate that. So, that’s all I can bring to the table and I hope that the Yankee fans enjoy watching me play.”
And Red Sox fans?
“There’s a lot of great Red Sox fans and they just wanted the best for me going forward,’’ he said. “I know there’s going to be some that don’t like this decision. You can’t worry about that. For me personally, I just want to go out and play and win, and I’m very fortunate now that I got traded to the White Sox, another historic franchise, too. So now I’ll have the opportunity to play on three unbelievable franchises in the game of baseball.”
He’ll have an interesting new teammate in righthanded reliever Joba Chamberlain, who was often accused of head-hunting Youkilis. He brushed him back and hit him with pitches.
“All that stuff that goes on on a baseball field is just things that happen,’’ Youkilis said. “It’s not a big deal to me. If it was that big of a deal, I wouldn’t be signing with the Yankees. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. And I think a lot of it is made out to be a lot bigger with the media and the fans. You know, there has been plenty of times where things have happened on the field where if you look at my stats, I’ve been hit 99 times. So there’s been multiple people that have hit me with pitches. I think Joba’s only done it to me once this year. But it’s not a big deal. We’re teammates now. We have the same goals. Going to spring training and trying to win. They fortunately got to win the AL East title, which I’m looking to do again as a Yankee.”
Youkilis, who turns 34 in March, acknowledged that he had to think about the Yankee opportunity. When you’re a Red Sox it’s ingrained into your being that you’re supposed to hate the Yankees. Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon went through the process as well, but in the end it’s hard to turn down a chance to wear the pinstripes.
“I think at first it was kind of different to think after all these years playing with the Red Sox, it’s just a different rivalry and different things you witness on the other side. I mean at first it was like, “wow,’ ’’ he said. “But after just going through and thinking it over, it really helped me when I had my charity event in Boston. There are so many great Red Sox fans and I’m sure we’ve actually had Yankee fans in the Boston area that come out. But everyone was gracious and told me that ‘Hey, we really wish you the best’ and that meant a lot.”
Youkilis said he’ll always call Boston his home, but unfortunately, times change.
“I didn’t play up to my capabilities up there last year and there’s a great young player, Will Middlebrooks, that deserves to play,” said Youkilis. “So you’ve got move on.
“So, I wish the Boston Red Sox success, only that in those 19 games they don’t have success against us, and finish below us in the AL East standings,” he said.
And about that “Youk’’ chant?
“The funny thing is when people chant Youk at Fenway it sounds the same as Yankee Stadium when I get booed. So, they always had fun with that,” he said.
Rodriguez is out at least through June, but there’s some sentiment he may not be ready until well after that. And even if he did return, he’d likely have to DH. Youkilis could also be used to spell Mark Teixeira at first and do some DHing as well.
“He will be penciled in as our everyday third baseman until Alex comes back,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “He certainly cushions the blow of losing Alex. That’s a difficult loss. When you have a healthy Alex Rodriguez you have one of the more productive players, but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t think of anyone better to replace him in the short-term than Kevin Youkilis. He’s a gamer and competitor that gives you a chance to win and is hungry and has a desire to win.”
Youkilis hit .235 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs in 122 games with the Red Sox and the White Sox last season.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.