Presence of Kevin Youkilis in Yankee uniform startling to some
A few years back, lifelong Yankees fan Jay Gargiulo decided to blog about his favorite team. When it came time to name it, he found inspiration in a player who embodied everything that was easy to hate about the Red Sox.
"Unfortunately, it was probably a little too vulgar to mention in polite company,'' Gargiulo said.
Kevin Youkilis feuded with reliever Joba Chamberlain. He wore scruffy facial hair that would never fly in the Bronx. He enraged fans with an unorthodox stance that made Youkilis look, Gargiulo once wrote, as though he were "bouncing on the world's smallest trampoline.''
For Yankees fans, he was the perfect foil, his excellent play making him worthy of their scorn. Which is why some of them still can't believe the chain of events that has led to the unthinkable.
"You can't control what people are going to think about you,'' Youkilis said this past week when he signed a one-year, $12-million contract to join the Yankees. "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.' ''
Now he will find out if they meant it.
From a baseball perspective, Youkilis' signing might go down as one of the Yankees' most important moves of the offseason. Alex Rodriguez will miss at least half of the 2013 season as he recovers from hip surgery. The Yankees consider themselves lucky to land Youkilis, a three-time All-Star, as A-Rod's designated stand-in.
Youkilis' on-base skills also fit with the Yankees' organizational preference. In "Moneyball,'' he famously was referred to as "The Greek God of Walks,'' a moniker that has stuck through all his success in the big leagues.
Indeed, the unlikely marriage makes sense for many reasons, though on the surface, the union is jarring.
"He was one of those guys like Jeter or David Wright or Chipper Jones that you just couldn't envision in another uniform,'' Gargiulo said. "So it was really surprising that he got traded away from the Red Sox to begin with, let alone that he signed with the Yankees.''
After all those years on the other side of a bitter rivalry, Youkilis admitted his own initial hesitation. He sought reassurance from a former teammate who once made the same transition, calling Johnny Damon to discuss the perils of switching sides. (It worked out pretty well for Damon.) From there, Youkilis decided that the Yankees gave him the best chance to win a World Series.
"I got traded away and this offseason, I didn't get offered a contract by the Red Sox or really even pursued by the Red Sox,'' Youkilis said. "I love to play baseball and you get offers as a free agent. You just can't turn down offers because of a rivalry.''
The Yankees appear ready to welcome him. Chamberlain -- who threw his share of up-and-in pitches to Youkilis, some of which went over his head -- has reached out in an attempt to mend fences. Mariano Rivera praised Youkilis for his gritty play while with the Red Sox. Ace CC Sabathia played down the strange transition.
"I think it will be fun,'' he said. "With the day and age it is now, guys change uniforms all the time. You know, it's nothing new. Johnny did it. There have been a lot of guys that have crossed over, so hopefully he can come over here and play well and can win another championship.''
But even Rivera acknowledged that some fans may struggle to make sense of the change. "I can't decide for them,'' he said.
Gargiulo, 28, wonders about the reception Youkilis will receive. Though he has no plans to boo the newest member of the Yankees, he can't bring himself to participate in any chants of "Youuuk!'' That sense of conflict -- shared by his fellow fans -- drove Gargiulo to update his blog for the first time in more than two years.
"Yes, come springtime, we will have to see a clean-shaven Kevin Youkilis on a near-daily basis if we wish to continue watching Yankees baseball,'' Gargiulo wrote. "We may experience perverse feelings of satisfaction when he succeeds, something that was antithetical to everything this blog stood for during its existence.''
Whatever the reaction -- whether they are cheers or boos -- Youkilis says he will be prepared.
"Well, I guess they're all going to sound the same,'' he said. "It will be all mixed in, so I'm going to take it as they're all saying 'Youuuuk.' ''