Nice position player
Youkilis more comfortable with situation
FORT MYERS, Fla. - You’ve seen Kevin Youkilis slam his helmet onto the dugout steps after striking out, or glare out at an opposing pitcher when a fastball comes too close to his head.
Now imagine Youkilis out for a quiet dinner with his family in Boston when an impatient fan who has had one too many drinks interrupts and demands an autograph.
“It literally happens sometimes when you’re about to put some food in your mouth,’’ said Youkilis.
Such people probably deserve a one-way trip to the sidewalk and Youkilis, truth be told, wouldn’t mind providing it. But after four full seasons of playing for the Red Sox, he better understands the passion people have for the team and how to best deal with it.
“When you’re a good ballplayer in Boston, they know who you are,’’ he said. “It doesn’t matter what sport you play, everyone knows who you are because it’s a huge sports town.
“You have to come to terms with all that and accept it rather than shunning it away. But it can be difficult because you don’t see yourself as being bigger and better. You just want to be a normal person like everybody else.’’
With his shaved head, distinctive dark goatee, and lifetime .391 on-base percentage, Youkilis is certainly not like everybody else. But as he approaches his 31st birthday this month, Youkilis also isn’t the angry young man he used to be.
He’s part of the establishment with the Red Sox, comfortable enough with his place on the team to call general manager Theo Epstein in early December and ask for a meeting to discuss the state of the organization and where he fits in.
He also has become one of the players the prospects in camp look to for guidance.
Most important, Youkilis has taken an active role in helping to raise his wife’s 4-year-old son from a previous marriage.
“I’ve seen him mature, for sure,’’ manager Terry Francona said yesterday. “That’s the natural progression. If you’re going to end up being a good player who’s accountable, you’re going to learn, you’re going to mature. That’s what happens.’’
Youkilis is one of the few Sox players who makes his home in Boston year-round. He has embraced the city and delved into charity work, most of it to benefit children. Youkilis enjoyed his time in the city so much over the winter that he eschewed his usual trip to Arizona to get in condition for the season and instead worked with a personal trainer, Eric Cressey.
“It takes some determination,’’ Youkilis said of living in Boston. “There are some negative things that float around sometimes. You just can’t let them affect you. You have to go out there and be confident in your abilities. You can’t listen to everything that is said.
“You’re going to run into some bad situations. But for the most part, I’ve met a lot of great people, and you appreciate that.’’
There are two keys to Hub living, according to Youkilis: Don’t read what’s written about you on the Internet and be careful where you go.
“There’s never anything good that comes with alcohol and young crowds,’’ he said. “So stay away from the young crowds and booze and you tend to be all right.’’
Youkilis and his wife, Enza Sambataro-Youkilis, recently posed for the cover of the Boston Parents Paper. The story inside centered on Michael, Enza’s son. The curly-haired boy has been at Youkilis’s side throughout spring training, visiting the clubhouse several times.
For Youkilis, the one plus to the Sox being eliminated from the playoffs in the first round last season was getting to spend more time with his family.
“Two days later, I told [Michael], ‘Daddy doesn’t have to go back to work for a long time,’ and he had this look in his eyes,’’ Youkilis told the Paper. “He gave me a huge hug and he was so excited. I took him to school; I picked him up. He just loved it.’’
The plan this year is to delay that time off until after the World Series. That was one of the reasons Youkilis wanted to sit down with Epstein, to get a better sense of how the Sox would build the roster and whether he would play first base or third.
It will be first base, after the Sox signed free agent Adrian Beltre to play third.
“People ask me what I would choose, and it would be the hardest choice,’’ said Youkilis. “I would choose what makes the team better.
“If there’s a player that’s coming in either way, I’d tell Theo to make a move to make our team better. Don’t make a move just because I want to play third this year or first that year.
“There’s a line of communication that wasn’t there before and now it’s there. We have a good understanding, Tito, Theo, and I, which makes it a lot more fun to play here.’’
Epstein welcomed the exchange. Having an open-door policy doesn’t work until somebody comes through the door.
“It was a great thing to be able to do,’’ Youkilis said. “I walked out of there happy with how I felt about playing for this organization. It’s something I hope to do for a long time. This is where I’m comfortable.’’