BOSTON — Kevin Youkilis' favorite part of Boston — besides the baseball — was driving down Storrow Drive near the Charles River. It actually reminded him of Chicago.
"Going to the ballpark every day I get to drive down the Storrow and that is probably one of the most beautiful roads that you can go down in the city," Youkilis told The Eagle-Tribune last summer. "It's kind of like going to Chicago down on the lake when you drive down there. I've got to say that Boston, for me, is a great town."
There was once a time when Youkilis not only loved Boston but enjoyed playing for the Red Sox. There was a time when he and the Red Sox were a perfect match.
But those days are over. His peaceful, beautiful drives to the ballpark now will take him past Lake Michigan en route to U.S. Cellular Field.
Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox yesterday for 28-year-old utility player Brent Lillibridge and 25-year-old right-hander Zach Stewart, who has a 5.92 ERA in 31 career appearances, including 12 starts.
Youkilis won a Gold Glove in 2007 and finished third in the American League MVP voting in 2008 and sixth in 2009. He made three AL All-Star teams with Boston, bashed 29 homers in 2008 and 27 long balls in 2009, and he posted a .413 on-base percentage in 2009.
"He's legendary," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said about Youkilis. "His work ethic, his dedication, his ability on the field. He can never come off the field with a clean uniform. He always gave everything he had."
Valentine hit the nail on the head with that comment, which came after the Red Sox beat Atlanta 9-4 yesterday here at Fenway Park.
This is a trade that needed to be made for several reasons.
First, Valentine knew of Youkilis' intense and passionate reputation before becoming manager this year. But he seemed to doubt Youkilis' dedication, work ethic and on-field ability this season.
Youkilis and Valentine didn't have a friendly relationship. Valentine's biggest issue with Youkilis became public April 15 when the first-year Red Sox skipper went on WHDH-TV's "SportsXTra" and called out the third baseman's emotional and physical commitment.
The next morning Youkilis declared that he was confused because everyone knows he plays the game hard.
Youkilis is best known for six things here in Boston: 1.) His unconventional batting stance; 2.) Being the "Greek God of Walks," which he was nicknamed in Michael Lewis' "Moneyball," 3). Being a high on-base percentage batter; 4). His big, bald head and hairy goatee; 5.) His last name, which allowed the Fenway Faithful to do a great deal of "Yooooooooooouking" not "boooooooing!" over the years. 6). Caring so much about the team and about being the very best player he could be — so much so that he often threw helmets and temper-tantrums after making outs.
Youkilis undoubtedly was the anti-J.D. Drew, the lackluster outfielder who only got excited when talking about outdoor activities such as hunting and might never again watch a baseball game now that he is retired.
Youkilis, on the other hand, loves baseball. Growing up, the Cincinnati native was a diehard Reds fan who loved watching Pete Rose, Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, Hal Morris, Eric Davis, Paul O'Neill, Jose Rijo and the Nasty Boys: relievers Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers.
Like Rose, Youkilis, who never was blessed with tremendous athleticism, hustled and worked his butt off in Boston.
And his strong bat and glove helped the Red Sox win a World Series title. He hit .500 with a .576 on-base percentage, three homers and seven RBIs in 28 at-bats in the Red Sox' 2007 ALCS win over the Cleveland Indians.
But Youkilis seemed a little deflated and lacking some interest and commitment to the team this year. And playing under Valentine didn't help him regain any of his old fervor.
Youkilis certainly didn't seem like himself when he was very short with his answers while talking with the media on his first day back from the 15-day disabled list May 22, indicating he was upset 23-year-old phenom rookie Will Middlebrooks was starting at third base and that he had been moved to first base. That was an indication that he was losing his understanding of the meaning of team.
Youkilis has been injury-prone the past two seasons — playing just 102 games in 2010 and 120 games last year. His DL stint this year was because of a back injury.
His average and on-base percentage dipped considerably this year. His attitude was beginning to sour by the day. All that and the emergence of Middlebrooks — who is too talented not to start every day — made it necessary for Youkilis to go.
He isn't the player he once was. But Youkilis should start to hit better with a change of scenery.
A fresh start should give him a chance to rediscover the Youkilis who we all knew for so many years in Boston — the one who threw his helmet after a strikeout and the one that every fan at Fenway remembered today when giving him a standing ovation when he was replaced for a pinch runner in the bottom of the seventh.