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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

He walks away with a dreamlike debut

TORONTO -- How much better can it get than this? Kevin Youkilis has wanted to play in the big leagues for all of his 25 years. He got the call to the Red Sox while he was in Charlotte with the PawSox Friday. He flew into Toronto Friday night and manager Terry Francona told him he'd be starting yesterday, playing third base. His parents flew in from Cincinnati and were in the second row behind the dugout when Youkilis homered for his first major league hit in his second big league at-bat.

"This one will go down probably as the greatest day of my life," said the rookie.

Among baseball aficionados, Youkilis became famous a year before he made it to the big leagues. The author of "Moneyball" dubbed him "The Greek God of Walks" and described Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's attempts to acquire him from the Red Sox. Then Youkilis reached base in 71 consecutive minor league games last summer. He became the poster boy for a new generation of GMs who worship at the altar of on-base percentage.

Mr. OBP went 2 for 4 in his big league debut, a 4-0 Red Sox win over the Blue Jays at SkyDome. He popped up on his first at-bat in the second inning, but in the fourth he homered to left on a 2-and-1 changeup from former Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen. He also hit a looping single to left on a 3-and-2 pitch in the sixth and flied to right on a rare first-pitch swing in the eighth. His career major league batting average stands at .500. Ditto for his all-important OBP.

Several baseball traditions were upheld on this nifty day in Ontario. The Red Sox bench was careful to ignore the rookie when he got into the dugout after his blast. Youkilis pointed to his folks behind the dugout after crossing home plate, but there was nobody moving on the bench until Francona finally broke the ice with a hug. He now trails teammate Ellis Burks (first one off Don Sutton at Fenway in 1987) by 351 homers.

Then there was the issue of the baseball, which landed in the left-field seats. NESN's roving reporter, Eric Frede, went to find the fan who corralled the ball and discovered two young women in joint possession of it. Much to the amazement of everyone on the scene, the people who caught Youkilis's homer were Blue Jays fans. Toronto this weekend is overrun with road-tripping Sox fans, making this feel like Fenway North. Frede offered the girls two signed Pedro Martinez baseballs, only to learn that one of them had never heard of the Sox ace. Ultimately, the trade was made and the Youkilis ball was put into a sock, awaiting Tim Wakefield's handiwork.

Wakefield is the official marker of all Red Sox memorabilia. He has the best penmanship on the team, and no memento leaves the clubhouse until Wakefield's Sharpie etches vital stats onto the ball. As luck would have it, on this day Wakefield was not with the team because he was in Boston enjoying the only event that might supersede a home run in one's first big league game: Wakefield was at Brigham and Women's Hospital, where his wife was giving birth to their first child, a son, within an hour of the Youkilis blast. Without putting words in his mouth, one can imagine Wakefield might have said the same thing Youkilis said: "The greatest day of my life."

No doubt the day also ranked high for Mike and Carolyn Youkilis of Cincinnati.

"My dad always talked about it -- hitting a home run for your first major league hit," said Youkilis. "He and my mom are the biggest influences in my life and for them to be able to come here on a minute's notice . . . It'll be a good feeling to be able to give that ball to my parents."

His is an odd resume. A native of Cincinnati, Youkilis was a two-time All-American in four seasons for the University of Cincinnati. The Red Sox (in the Dan Duquette era) drafted him in the eighth round in 2001 and he got his professional baptism in Lowell, Mass., hitting .317 in 59 games while earning Player of the Year honors for the Spinners.

Youkilis climbed through three levels of the organization in 2002, going from Augusta to Sarasota to Trenton, where he hit .344 in 44 games for the Thunder. Along the way, he impressed the Bill James Brigade by demonstrating a remarkable knowledge of the strike zone. He walked almost two times for every time he struck out. It didn't matter much to the new breed that Youkilis hit only 19 homers in his first 1,097 at-bats; he made it on base more than 45 percent of the time. He walked a whopping 270 times in his first 325 professional games.

He is not your father's third base prospect. In the old days, a third baseman had to hit home runs. It was OK if he struck out a lot as long as he hit for power. Not today. Youkilis stands 6 feet 1 inch, weighs 220 pounds, doesn't hit homers, and can't run very fast. He's never going to be Mike Schmidt, or even Doug DeCinces. But the Sox think he can get on base often enough to be a viable major leaguer. Baseball America this spring rated him the fourth-best prospect in the organization.

He was hitting .258 with three homers and a .347 OBP in 32 games for the PawSox when he got the call to Toronto.

His homer in the second made him the first Sox player to homer in his first major league game since Sam Horn turned the trick in July of 1987 (wonder when the Sons of Kevin Youkilis will start their website). He became the first Sox player to hit a home run for his first big league hit since Creighton Gubanich hit a grand slam in 1999.

Perhaps the only thing disappointing about Youkilis's first big league game is that we didn't get to see him draw a base on balls. He is, after all, the Greek God of Walks. Seeing Youkilis in his first game but not seeing him walk was like going to the Esplanade on the Fourth and not hearing the Pops play the "1812 Overture." We felt a little cheated.

"Don't worry, I'm sure I'll work one of those in," Youkilis said. "Most of that [`Moneyball'] stuff has kind of died out -- the whole `Greek God of Walks' thing."

No need for walking. Not on the greatest day of his life. On this day, The Greek God of Walks was walking on air.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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