Hardball Questions: Kevin Youkilis

Kevin Youkilis gained national recognition when Oakland general manager Billy Beane dubbed him the Greek God of Walks in Michael Lewis’ bestselling book “Moneyball” in 2003. In 2004, Youkilis reached the major leagues for the first time and helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series.

Back in the minor leagues, Youkilis and the Pawtucket Red Sox were in Rochester to play the Red Wings at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 27. Before the game, Ben had a chance to chat with Youkilis about “Moneyball” and his time with the Red Sox.

(Note: Youkilis was recalled by the Red Sox on Saturday, and he went 4-for-8 with a double, two walks and three RBIs over the weekend.)

THT: Have you been teased much by friends and teammates because of the nickname Billy Beane gave you?

Youkilis: Yeah, a lot of teammates and a lot of friends have joked about it and had a lot of fun with it, any time you get a walk or something, or just joking around about little things here or there. They’re kind of like, “Don’t you know who that is?”

It’s kind of funny. It’s brought a lot more ragging and stuff by teammates. It’s just all in good fun. It’s definitely just fun to have that, and a lot of guys use it. Being up there in the major leagues, you’re always going to get picked on, but when you have something like that to add to it, it just adds to the fire.

THT: How did you hear that you had been mentioned in that book?

Youkilis: I think it was my dad. I forget who it was. It might have been my dad or my agent that called me and said, “You know, you’re all over this book and Moneyball is out on newsstands now and it’s becoming like a big book that people are buying.”

My dad read it and gave it to me, and I read probably halfway through it. I’m not really good with the books. I get sidetracked all the time. Read about half the book and get sidetracked. But I read a lot of it, and read about some of the guys I had played against and seen.

It was pretty interesting to get the fan’s perspective of how a general manager thinks.

THT: What was it like for you being in the minor leagues and getting mentioned in a best-selling book?

Youkilis: It was phenomenal from my standpoint. Who, besides the Boston Red Sox fans, who are real knowledgeable in their minor leagues and all the way up to the major leagues of their baseball, and those are the only people that really knew a lot about me.

That book opened up a lot of different knowledge about different players all around baseball that some people might not know about. It gave a lot of people perspective, and it put my name out there as somebody that has a future in baseball. It was real big for me just to have my name put out there in a book.

THT: Is it ever discouraging that you’re known more for your ability to walk than your ability to hit?

Youkilis: Not really. It’s not really put in perspective as that. It’s just saying, you know, good hitters walk. If you’re not a good hitter, you’re not going to walk. I mean, you’ll find most of the guys that have the most walks are pretty good hitters.

Otherwise, the pitchers would throw it right down the middle every time. Getting walks is something that is challenging the pitcher, or just being smart and selective at the plate. I think that’s one of the attributes of walking, is going up there and being able to hit certain pitches.

You get to be a good hitter before you get a lot of walks, that’s the way I see it. You take a lot of pitches. You can be smart and selective at the plate, and that helps attribute to walks.

THT: How would you describe your approach at the plate?

Youkilis: Basically, just going up there and trying to get a good pitch to hit, not really going up there and just swinging. I’m not a free-swinger. I don’t go up there just to swing at anything, because I feel that I don’t gain from that.

I feel like going up there and seeing pitches and getting a good pitch to hit… And then with two strikes, it’s a little different. You’ve got to battle a little bit harder, and swing at pitches that are pitcher’s pitches and not hitter’s pitches.

I go up there looking for a pitch that I can hit hard.

THT: Who taught you how to hit?

Youkilis: Well, my dad has always been a big influence. I had a batting cage in the back yard. He helped me out a lot.

It was just basically going up there and just hitting. I just gained it through playing the game and having knowledge of the strike zone and learning that the whole game is not hitting balls. You want to hit strikes. You want to hit good pitches.

I just grew from there, and in college I got better at it. In the minor leagues, I basically just dwelled on it more. You’ve got to get better in this game to make it all the way to the top, and that’s what I did, just kept getting better and better.

THT: Have the Red Sox asked you to change anything, or have they pretty much left you alone?

Youkilis: No. Sometimes, you know, in certain situations you have to be more aggressive. With runners in scoring position, you’ve got to be more aggressive and be ready to hit because you want to drive in the runs; you don’t want to walk.

If it’s like second and third, one out, you get a pitch to hit, you’ve got to hit it. That’s a big thing. You get a good pitch to hit in that situation, you’ve got to hit it. You can’t go up there in that situation taking a lot of pitches.

THT: Last year, you hit a home run in your first major-league game, became something of a fan favorite and won a World Series ring. Was that just beyond your wildest dreams of what your first major-league season would be?

Youkilis: Yeah, definitely. Last year, I was at Triple-A, thought I was going to be there for the whole year, maybe a September call-up. The next thing you know, I’m up in the big leagues in May. Bill Mueller went down with a knee injury, and I had to step in.

In order to stay up there, you’ve got to produce and go out there and play. That’s what I did, just went out there doing what I do and just trying to stay up there as long as possible.

Luckily, I got the chance to stay up there for a while. I got sent back down for six days, and then Pokey Reese got injured and I went right back up and stayed there for the rest of the time.

I was on the division series roster and played in the division series against Anaheim, and then I was on the World Series roster, but we only went four games and I never had a chance to get in those games. But it was great.

Just being on the roster in the World Series, and being a part of such an unbelievable season, you know, in the history of the Red Sox. They always told us coming up, you know, if you’re a part of the team that wins the World Series, you’ll never be forgotten, you’ll have the key to the city.

That’s how it is. You go walk around there, people are open arms to you. They love you, they love everything about the Red Sox team that won the World Series. They never stop talking about it. It’s great just to be a part of something special like that.

THT: What was it like getting the rings earlier this month?

Youkilis: It was phenomenal. It was a great day. You know, it was great to come home back to Boston and be at Fenway. To see the home and come back, it was great for us. We got back from that road trip and came back and we were just so excited.

Opening Day, ring ceremony, then we were also playing the Yankees, that was just a great day. Everything went well. We beat the Yankees that day. Everything just went, you know, you couldn’t ask for a better day.

Getting the rings, having an off day the next so we got to sit back and enjoy those rings. It was probably one of the best days of my life, just seeing those rings and just having a great time.

THT: Have you worn your ring much?

Youkilis: I wore it for about a week, and then I’m going to put it away in a safety deposit box and just only take it out for certain occasions.

THT: What were you thinking when you hit your first home run and got back to the dugout and everybody pretended nothing happened?

Youkilis: Well, Pedro… You know, my first at-bat, I just missed a pitch from hitting a home run. I just got under a ball just enough, popped it up, just missed the pitch. Game of inches, you know? If I get on top of it just a little bit more, I might have had a chance to hit a home run in my first at-bat.

But Pedro watches the game pretty well. He saw that and told me, “When you hit a home run your next at-bat, we’re going to give you the silent treatment.” I was like, “yeah, right. I’m not going to hit a home run.”

What do you know, I hit the ball and I knew it was gone right when I hit it. Spring around the bases and Crespo, the guy on deck, gave me a hug and I go back to the dugout and everybody was sitting in their seats, and I knew right then.

It was funny, and everything was going so quick. Everything happens so quick when your adrenaline’s up that high. That’s what happened. I just went with it. That was kind of like my introduction to just being a part of the team.

How I reacted, everyone always says, like the guys, that was great. That made me feel welcome to the team.

THT: A lot’s been written or said about last year’s bunch of “idiots.” What was it like being a part of that clubhouse?

Youkilis: It was great. You had a lot of guys that would joke around. It was a loose clubhouse that had fun. No one had animosity and no one was mad. Everyone gelled together and had fun. Everyone would joke around and act like it was a party in there.

It was like a party and you’re just sitting around, having fun, joking around with each other. It was like going out with all your friends on a night on the town. It was like that going to the clubhouse every day.

You’re excited to get to the clubhouse because there’s something new you read in the paper or you had something, a little joke that you heard about, on somebody. It was just great. Everyone just had fun, and it all worked out splendidly.

For us not to win it would have been just terrible, because it was such a great team that had so much fun and appreciated the game of baseball. Once every guy stepped on the field, it was business.

It was all business, and it wasn’t joking around. It was getting after the games, and playing the game.

THT: The Red Sox made several changes during the offseason. From the time you spent up there in the beginning of the season, is the clubhouse much different than last year?

Youkilis: You’ve got a lot of the same guys there. You don’t have Pedro back, or Derek Lowe, who were a big part of keeping the clubhouse loose and having fun, but you’ve got David Wells there now. Matt Clement’s more of a quiet guy.

It’s a little different in that aspect, but you’ve got a lot of the same guys. The position players are all the same, and those are the guys, you know, you’ve Ortiz and you’ve got Millar and you’ve got Manny and a lot of guys that joke around.

It’s a lot of fun. You’ve got a lot of guys up there that goof off and have fun, and once the baseball comes around, it’s all serious and guys get after it.

THT: Having been a part of everything that went on last year for the Red Sox, how difficult is it being back in the minor leagues?

Youkilis: Well, it’s difficult. There’s one guy that had to go down, go on waivers or whatever, and I was the only one that had options. You never want it to happen, but it happened and now I’ve got to deal with it.

I’ve got to come down here and get my at-bats. They told me that it would be for a couple weeks and they’d get me right back up after a couple weeks when they get it all situated with the pitching. We’ll see what happens.

You never know. It could be a couple months. You never know what’s going to happen. This game’s crazy. To be a young guy with options in this game, you’re always one of the first to be put down. That’s just how the game works.

You’ve got guaranteed contracts. A lot of those guys up there, they can’t go down. So, they might have to keep one player over another just because one has options. That’s how it’s working right now. What I’ve got to do is just go out here and play baseball.

Going out here and just getting my at-bats, playing the field, playing every day and make sure I’m ready, when I get called up, I’m ready to play in those games when I get called up there.

THT: Do you see yourself as the future starting third baseman for the Red Sox?

Youkilis: I hope. They don’t know ever. A big-market team, you never know what’s going to happen. For me, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Hopefully, that’s what’s going to happen some day, but for me, I’ve just got to go out and do what I’ve got to do to get myself better and get myself ready to help that team up there.

THT: Thanks Kevin, I appreciate it.

Youkilis: You’re welcome.

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