I've watched Kevin Youkilis' entire career in the Red Sox organization. I saw the kid with the funny batting stance playing third for the Portland Seadogs:
I read Moneyball where he gained national attention as Billy Beane's wet dream: the Greek God of Walks. I watched him transform from an on-base machine to a power hitter and legitimate MVP contender (as much as I love Pedey, Youk might have deserved it more in 2008). He earned a Gold Glove in 2007, and set a defensive record in 2008 (though it has since been broken) with 2,002 error-less fielding attempts.
And through it all, Youkilis was a Dirt Dog. He played the game with grit and hustle, and with some foresight of the new NESN marketing quip: every pitch, every play, every hit, every game matters.
It mattered so much to Youkilis that his teammates sometimes got annoyed at his overflowing passions and outbursts of anger when something went wrong. We all remember the June 2008 game where Manny Ramirez, reportedly tired of Youk's helmet tossing and bat-slamming after every unsuccessful at-bat, actually took a swing at the then-first baseman, and the two had to be restrained by other teammates.
But the fans loved Youkilis for that very reason: he cared about every game the way we care about every game - viscerally, passionately, and whole-heartedly. On the opposite end of fan scapegoats like JD Drew, who get in trouble for the lack of emotion, Youkilis was a hardnosed player who the fans could relate to.
As much popularity as players like Jacoby Ellsbury enjoy, they seem somewhat out of reach, like they're not quite real. In addition to being a hugely talented multimillionaire, Ells is also an attractive Goldenboy, while Youkilis just seems so much more relatable. Though he's even wealthier than Ells, Youk wouldn't look out of place on a construction site, or at a family reunion - he seems down to earth despite enjoying successes most people never dream of.
I wore a Kevin Youkilis jersey to work today, in memory of the good times, and multiple people asked me about it. We were all on the same page: it was time for the Greek God of Walks-turned-All Star to bow out and make room for the next rookie sensation, but there was a sense of nostalgia in each short exchange. The beginning of Youk's career in Boston coincided with the Reversal of the Curse, ushering in some of the best years in recent Red Sox memory, and he will always be inexorably tied to those memories. I wish him nothing but the best over in Chicago - he deserves it.
Even though this will never look quite right.