ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Kevin Youkilis returns to Fenway Park on Monday as a member of the Chicago White Sox.
The third baseman was traded to Chicago on June 24. The move was made to clear a spot for rookie Will Middlebrooks. But a secondary issue was the strained relationship between Youkilis and manager Bobby Valentine.
In April, during an interview with Channel 7, Valentine was asked about Youkilis and said, “I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.”
The remark caused an uproar at the time. Valentine apologized for upsetting Youkilis and general manager Ben Cherington stepped in to mediate. Youkilis claimed at the time he had moved past the issue.
This morning, Valentine initially spoke innocuously about the return of Youkilis until he was asked about their relationship and any “friction” that may have existed.
“I think that’s a joke,” Valentine said. “I wasn’t here last year. There was no friction in spring training. So I think that’s a joke. But I’ll take all that. I think the comment that I made early, he made a big issue out of and I don’t think he ever wanted to get over it.”
Valentine was asked how his relationship was with Youkilis after the Channel 7 comment.
“I have no idea,” he said. “It’s whatever he wanted it to be. Like I said, we didn’t have any strained relationship in spring training and I wasn’t around last year.”
By invoking last season, Valentine is apparently referring to the notion that some players on the team believe Youkilis was the source of the story regarding drinking in the clubhouse during games.
“Yeah, I was aware of that,” Valentine said. “I was a newcomer. I inherited that situation, didn’t cause it.”
Youkilis hit .233 with a .692 OPS in 42 games for the Red Sox. Since the trade, he has hit .316 with a .91 OPS for the White Sox. Over 15 games, he has three homers and 15 RBIs.
“I haven’t seen him play. But he’s gotten a lot of hits,” Valentine said. “He’s played a lot of games. Seems like he’s healthier. … I’m not surprised. Matter of fact, [hitting coach Dave Magadan] said no doubt that if he went somewhere else he would play better.”
In Kansas City with the White Sox, Youkilis did not respond to Valentine.
“I got nothing about any of that stuff. I’m over all the Boston thing this year,” he said. “There’s a lot of great past history but this year I’m focused on the White Sox.”
Youkilis was given several loud ovations at Fenway Park on the day he was traded and has long been a fan favorite. But when asked what kind of reception he expected in Boston, he was unsure.
“I don’t know. Probably a good reaction,” Youkilis said. “But after the first day, they don’t want me to do well playing against your team. So you never know what you are going to get. I think it will be a good reception.”
Youkilis is looking forward to the series.
“It’s going to be fun and the good thing here is we are in first place and we have to keep going and playing well and stay in first place,” he said. “It will be different. It will be a different feeling, different dugout and all that stuff. Different emotions, but you have to bear down and really focus. I think once the game starts, that’s all you really play for. It’s what the game brings you. A lot of people there will be cheering me on and some people who won’t be. But that’s the way it is in sports.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some people. It will be good to see some players I played with and people that have been around that city. It will be good to see some people and some friends that live there, and a few friends I made for a lifetime. So, it will be good to hang out with them and enjoy it.”