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Youkilis returns with only fond Red Sox memories

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / July 17, 2012
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All Kevin Youkilis had to go on the day he took the field for his last game in a Red Sox uniform not even a month ago were murmurs.

There already had been an air of uncertainty the previous week with reports that the Pirates, White Sox, and the Braves were all interested in swinging a deal for him.

“It was a tough day,” he said. “It was just a weird scenario that week, just going in there and finding out and playing that day. Going out there and getting a standing ovation, you didn’t know if that was your last day or not.

“I just thought I was playing. I didn’t know if there was a trade going down or not and the fans didn’t know there was a trade either. So it was an unbelievable moment, the fact that the fans were showing their love in case.”

The three weeks since Youkilis was traded to the White Sox with cash for Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart have flown by. Since the move, Youkilis has hit .295, has smacked three home runs, has driven in 15 runs, and has won American League Player of the Week honors, feeling rejuvenated in a setting that is both new and less pressure-soaked.

Before the trade he was hitting .233 and was in and out of the lineup because of injuries while also feeling the pressure of prospect Will Middlebrooks pushing him for his spot at third base. In Chicago, though, it’s a drama-free environment — one with just four beat writers, Youkilis made sure to note Monday, when he returned to Fenway Park for the first time since the trade — that he says has made the game more fun.

“I would say there was less drama all around,” Youkilis said. “No offense to you guys [in the media], there’s always a story. I think with us, it’s just about the game, you play, it’s over with. You get a question, but there’s no drama with questions all the time. It’s just fun.”

“We’re also second fiddle to the Cubs. It’s great. It’s easy.”

Coming back to Fenway so soon after the trade that ended the 33-year-old’s eight-plus-year run in Boston, Youkilis said he had no ill feelings about his last days in a Sox uniform, just fond memories of the championships, fans, and friends.

“There’s no regrets,” Youkilis said. “I came in my rookie year and won a World Series, then won another one playing every day. Some guys can’t even say they won one; I was very fortunate to win two and got to go to All-Star Games, all the cool stuff. I met my wife here. So there’s no regrets of what happened. I’ll never look back and say I should have done this or that.”

Nothing about his 42 games with the Red Sox this season was smooth. From the start there was a war of words with new manager Bobby Valentine, who said Youkilis, “just doesn’t seem physically and emotionally into the game as he has been for some reason.”

Now that Youkilis is in a new uniform he’s insistent about leaving it all behind him.

“I’m not here to talk about . . . I don’t understand why this is still a big rift and things are going on,” Youkilis said. “I’m just here to play baseball and things will happen and that’s all it is. There’s no Bobby V vs. Kevin Youkilis or vice versa. It’s about the Chicago White Sox vs. Boston Red Sox and just playing baseball.”

Youkilis said he made it a point to work on the little things with Middlebrooks in spring training because he could see the writing on the wall. Middlebrooks said Sunday that even though Youkilis could have been sour about his situation and taken it out on the prospect tapped to be his successor, he didn’t.

“There’s a time when your career’s going to end or you’re going to end in a certain city and play for a different team and the guys after you, you want to follow and do the right things,” Youkilis said. “That was one thing, I saw that Will was going to be the guy to follow me and you’ve got to teach the right way to go about things and to play the game. Terry [Francona] always said the one big thing is make sure when you leave this game, leave it the way you came into this game. Bill Mueller was great to me when I came into this game and I wanted to leave that same impact on Will.”

His landing spot with the first-place White Sox couldn’t have been cushier. Chicago entered Monday night’s game 3½ games ahead of Detroit in the Central Division, and manager Robin Ventura had inked Youkilis’s name on the lineup card in the two hole for each of the 16 games since the team acquired him.

“You never can complain when you’re in the lineup,” Youkilis said. “It’s definitely fun to know when you’re playing and there’s not added things going around. I know every day I’m playing and if I’m not playing Robin will come to me and just tell me — I think, I haven’t not played yet. So I know where I’m playing every day, and I know where I’m hitting in the lineup and that definitely a lot of times helps.”

Youkilis said he has exchanged text messages with some of his old teammates. Being in the visitors locker room, a notoriously tight squeeze, was comfortable, he said, largely because of visiting clubhouse manager Joe Cochran’s familiar face (he gave Youkilis his No. 20 jersey when he came into the league).

Valentine, when asked previously about any friction between him and Youkilis, said he wasn’t making appointments to see Youkilis.

“If we run into each other, I guess I could talk to him,” the manager said before the game. “I don’t usually do that with the other team.”

How long Youkilis will stay in Chicago, which has a club option for next season, is uncertain. “I’ve got a lot more hitting to do,” he said.

But he said he enjoys the feel of playing every day and doing it for a contender.

“What I’m doing now,” Youkilis said, “is trying to have fun and win.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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