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Dan Shaughnessy

New year, new lease on life for Youkilis

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 30, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - After years of being overrated, the Red Sox might be going the other way this season. One year after a spring peppered with talk of 100 wins and BEST TEAM EVER, the Sox are nobody’s favorite to win the 2012 World Series. Sports Illustrated picks the Sox to finish third in the American League East. Some of us might even go lower.

“That’s the greatest thing ever,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, the second-ranking veteran [behind David Ortiz] in continuous service with the Red Sox. “I love it. Every year we’ve won the World Series, we’ve never been picked. We didn’t make the playoffs in ’06, our team was in shambles and guys were hurt. Then we won the World Series the next year when no one expected anything.

“The hype is tough. The Yankees have always been hyped and if they don’t win it’s the end of the world. Last year it was the same thing with us. So it’s kind of a good feeling to have where we’re just going out and playing. Personally, that’s my attitude this year. We can sit around and bitch and moan about everything in baseball, but the bottom line is we just have to go out and play the game.’’

Youkilis was on the sidelines when everything fell apart in September. He went on the disabled list with a lower-back strain in August, and finished the season on the 60-day disabled list because of a groin injury. He underwent surgery for the groin less than a week after everything blew up in Baltimore. He finished the season batting .258 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 120 games. His work around third base also suffered. It was easily Youk’s most unproductive season since 2006.

Now 33, engaged to marry Julie Brady, sister of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Youkilis looks lean and mean in the spring of 2012. He batted cleanup, going 0 for 2 in Thursday’s 3-2 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s hitting .194 this spring with no homers.

Youkilis averaged fewer than 120 games in each of the last three seasons (he tore a muscle in his thumb in August of 2010). His first base days are over now that Adrian Gonzalez is with the Sox. Does Youk have any worries about breaking down in the latter part of his career?

“No, I just go out and play,’’ he said. “I won’t still be doing this when I’m 40, I’ll tell you that. At this age some guys get better, some guys stay the same, some guys go downhill.’’

It was hard watching the collapse of 2011 without being able to help.

“You can’t run or get to balls you are fielding and they have guys come in for you in the middle of the games,’’ he said. “That’s not fun. You need to be able to play at a high level and I just wasn’t able to do that to help us win. I wish there was something I could have taken or something. There’s no cortisone shot you can take to alleviate that pain.’’

So he sat and watched the gruesome finish. In person.

“Being there is a key part of it,’’ said Youkilis. “I’ve always had that philosophy. You have to be with your teammates. Plus, if you make the playoffs, you’re getting money in your pocket. Being a cheerleader is being a cheerleader, but these guys are busting their butts and putting money in your pocket. You owe it to them to be there.’’

Youkilis came to the majors in May 2004, which means he has never played a big league game for a manager other than Terry Francona. Youk said he exchanged texts with Francona after the longtime manager was fired.

“That wasn’t fun for me,’’ said Youkilis. “Things like that happen. My dad used to talk about Sparky Anderson and the Reds, always saying it was the players who made him a Hall of Fame manager. Players have to play. Nothing bad against managers, but players are the ones who go out and play the game. We’re here, and we’re gonna make the manager look good. When we don’t do our jobs, managers all around the league get fired.’’

When is his marriage to Ms. Brady?

“I don’t talk about my personal life,’’ he said, still smiling.

Not even when he becomes Tom Brady’s brother-in-law?

“Actually, I think that’s going to be the other way around,’’ Youkilis said with a chuckle.

Youkilis was at the Super Bowl with Brady family members when the Patriots lost to the Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium in February. He denied a report that he watched from a luxury box.

“The story was that I was in a suite or a box,’’ he said. “No, man. I was in the stands. I was getting yelled at the whole game.

“I got nothing on Tom Brady for you. Call Tom. All I can tell you is that he’s a great guy. He’s a great family man and very determined in life to win.’’

I had one more question for Youkilis. Has it occurred to him that someday soon he will be the brother-in-law of Gisele Bundchen - just as Sox center fielder Dominic DiMaggio was once the brother-in-law of Marilyn Monroe?

“Where are you going with this?’’ asked Youk. “Can’t we go back to talking about Tito and baseball?’’

OK. Opening Day is Thursday in Detroit. Look for Kevin Youkilis at third base, batting cleanup.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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