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Mark Bechtel
November 07, 2007
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November 07, 2007

"there's Something Fun About Yooouuuk"


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The most frustrating part was that Youk doesn't go up there looking for a free pass; if anything, he's genetically predisposed to it. His eyesight is 20/11, a trait he got from his dad. In addition to allowing him to read the crawl on a TV from across the room, Youk's vision allows him to identify pitches and where they're headed earlier than most hitters. And if it's a pitch he doesn't like, he's not going to swing at it. "You've got to understand that you've got to get good pitches to hit," says Youk. "For me it's understanding that as a hitter you can't hit a certain pitch. It might be a strike, but if it's a hard slider on the outside corner, you're not going to be able to drive that pitch."

So he lies back and waits for something he can handle. In 2006, his first full season in the league, Youk finished seventh in the AL in walks, which is remarkable given his relative lack of pop. Big walkers are generally big hitters who get pitched around a lot: The six players ahead of him in bases on balls in '06 averaged 41 homers and 14 intentional walks. Youk hit a mere 13 bombs and wasn't intentionally walked once.

In 2007 about half of his plate appearances have come batting second. With David Ortiz hitting third, no pitcher in his right mind was going to get too cute with Youk, who batted .305 from the two hole.

But there's more to his emergence at the plate than his spot in the order. "He's taking more of what the pitchers give him, using the whole field," says Francona. "He's going to work the count about as good as any hitter in baseball. Last year if he got a two-strike breaking ball, he might swing and miss. This year he's fouling it off or taking it to rightfield."

"Against Youkilis, I know I can't stay in one pattern," says Detroit Tigers closer Todd Jones. "That's the sign of a good hitter, because there's not one glaring weakness. If you get him out, you feel good, because you know you've earned it. It's good to see a guy who takes that much pride in his craft."

And it didn't hurt that Youk turned up in spring training in the best shape of his life. After the 2002 season Boston G.M. Theo Epstein sent Youk to the Athletes' Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., where he was put through an intensive six-week training regimen. He liked it so much that he moved his off-season home to Arizona, and he's gone back to API on his own dime in each of the past three winters. At 220 pounds, he's not godlike yet, but no one's calling him chubby anymore, either.

Yes, these are heady days for Youk. In addition to his own blog (called—what else?—Yooooouuuukkkk), he's got a website devoted to him, the Daughters of Kevin Youkilis (a takeoff on the popular Red Sox message board Sons of Sam Horn). He's engaged to a lovely Boston woman (who used to date Ben Affleck). And he's shut up everyone who said he couldn't hit in the big leagues. Just about the only problem he's got is that he doesn't have a problem; maintaining that me-against-the-world attitude that has served him so well throughout his career isn't as easy as it once was. "I've always felt like I've had to prove myself," he says. "The chip on my shoulder has been there for years." But it's getting tougher and tougher to keep that chip there now that his detractors have been silenced, their doubts and criticisms replaced by the sound of a legion of fans who all seem to say the same thing: Yooouuuk!

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