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
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."
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
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 MLB.com 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!