Making a name for himself
Kevin Youkilis has become a folk hero in Boston
Posted: Friday October 19, 2007 1:59PM; Updated: Friday October 19, 2007 3:50PM
Everywhere Kevin Youkilis goes, he hears it.
At Fenway Park. At road games.
In restaurants. In the New York subway.
It can be a little overwhelming being serenaded whenever you show your face in public, but Youkilis doesn't mind. "That's how you know you're doing well," says the 28-year-old Boston Red Sox first baseman. The fans chant at him because he's an integral cog in the Red Sox lineup, in which he bats everywhere from leadoff to sixth. (Following a regular-season in which he had a .390 on-base percentage, 12th in the American League, Youkilis has been a force in the postseason, with a .421 batting average in the ALCS and three homers in 31 at-bats overall.) But they also chant at him because he's their kind of guy, cut from the same blue-collar cloth as their beloved Idiots of '04.
"He's very popular because of the way he goes about his business," says Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy. "He plays hard all the time. Every at-bat to him is like the last at-bat of his career. That rubs off on the fans -- they appreciate that." Yes, Youkilis is very down-to-earth; when Sox fans stand three deep on the corner of Yawkey Way and Van Ness after games chanting in the direction of his car as it leaves the players' lot (as they do after most home games), they're cheering not at a Bentley or an Escalade but at a sensible Volkswagen Touareg.
Probably the biggest reason they chant at Youkilis, however -- and why he's become a genuine folk hero as opposed to merely a popular player -- is because his name is so damn chantable. "There's something fun about 'Yooouuuk,'" says Sox fan Rachel Friede, a 28-year-old marketing associate who was bellowing it, in full throat, during a July game in Cleveland. "It sounds totally guttural, and it's kind of a fun thing to do."
The Youk cheer wouldn't be quite as much fun were it not for a resourceful Jewish ancestor of Youkilis's who nearly a century and a half ago escaped Cossack persecution in Romania. He ensured that Boston fans wanting to salute their first baseman wouldn't have to stand and chant "Weiner!," which, except for a few hot dog vendors, no one wants to do at a baseball game.
Youkilis' family history reads like a Michael Chabon novel: In 19th-century Romania males were conscripted into the military when they reached their 16th birthday. The Cossacks in the region weren't known for their tolerance of minorities, so many Jews tried to avoid enlisting in the army. Youkilis's great-great-great-grandfather -- nobody is sure what his first name was, but the family name was Weiner (pronounced Winer, actually) -- escaped to Greece, where the family had friends. After a year or two, according to family lore, he became homesick and returned to Romania, but in order to avoid the army, or jail, he passed himself off as a Greek by assuming the name Youkilis.
Later, during the 1920s, Youk's great-uncle Paul emigrated to America. Looking to make enough money to bring his 10 siblings over, he entered into the very lucrative business of running rum into the U.S. from Canada during Prohibition, working with Al Capone in the States and the Bronfman family in Canada. (Family legend has it that the Bronfmans wanted to make Paul a partner, but he refused. "My uncle said, 'I take on no partners,'" says Youk's dad, Mike.) Eventually the whole Youkilis clan made its way over, settling in Cincinnati.