Last Sunday I was lying on my couch, generally incapacitated from the type of Sunday hangover that comes but a few times a year ... or whenever your girlfriend leaves town for a weekend to visit family and you suddenly become indifferent to the amount of vodka you’re consuming during pre-gaming. My credit card was at the bar so my attempts to order pizza had failed, and my car was still at a bar from Friday so until after dinner I was stranded in the house. Luckily the Red Sox game was on, so I stared at it in the way negligent parents will throw on a Pixar movie to keep their kids quiet and distracted for a couple hours. From the start, something was different. On his first at-bat Youkilis got a standing ovation, which the TBS broadcast team referred to as “bizarre,” but I found completely logical in the context of trade talks heating up and Will Middlebrooks’ emergence at third base, and the resulting possibility that any game could be Youk’s last in a Sox uniform.
That David Wells passes for a television broadcaster in today’s pathetic media landscape is bizarre. The crowd reactions on Sunday were not. But I digress.
After a couple more standing ovations and a triple that could easily have been scored an error, Bobby Valentine lifted the former all-star to give him a chance to enter the dugout with all the Fenway cheers for himself, punctuated with a couple of curtain calls for good measure. While the broadcasters once again could muster nothing more than confusion, any reasonable fan could discern that Youk either had been traded or was about to be traded, but was nevertheless done in Boston. I knew I was supposed to feel something for a player that had been one of the best hitters in the league for so many consecutive years; certainly I knew my friends that rooted for the Yankees were happy to see him go after I spent years hearing how much they hated his “stupid face” in the way I hate Teixieira’s stupid horseface. But really all I could muster as he sank into the dugout and disappeared down the tunnel was one thought: It’s over already?
To me that was Youkilis. He never did anything that left me in awe, he never made me feel like the team couldn’t survive without him, but he got the hits, sparked the clubhouse, and - mercifully - never drove me to such frustration that I wanted to drive my car over a cliff. He was just…good. There’s nothing wrong with good. I loved Manny Ramirez, for instance, as he would do things that I still think about to this day. But I can also picture him having two errors in one inning of Game One of the 2004 World Series, leading me to unleash a torrent of obscenities from my mouth that gets me angry typing this eight years later. Now that - that’s love, with its highs and its lows. Youk, on the other hand, was dependable. Never flashy and never had moments that endeared me to him in that same, intense way, but I’ll always be thankful that he was on my team during that time. That - that’s comfort, complacency. But after being in that place with crazy highest-highs and lowest-lows love, one can really appreciate comfort and complacency. One can really appreciate just…good.
In a way, maybe he got screwed by 2004. If Dave Roberts gets tagged out in Game Four, the Yankees complete the sweep and, assuming the Red Sox get it done in 2007 as they did, Youk is remembered as one of the heroes of the organization, the guy with the clubhouse intensity that pushed the team over the Indians to reverse the curse after 89 years.
Instead you’ll have fans unable to remember his name 20 years from now, while at the same time will roll off “Mark Bellhorn” without difficulty. That sucks for him. And it's what sucks about feeling that feeling I had on Sunday about the time passing too quickly. I still wanted him to be able to do more, to get another ring, to hit that walk-off in the playoffs. To have that twilight, legacy-cementing moment that would ensure he wouldn’t be forgotten. Instead he’s in a White Sox uniform and now I’m left to define his career around one World Series and a myriad of relative disappointment, especially 2008 and 2011, years when those around him should have put the finishing touches on a dynasty and instead faltered against teams that never approached them in terms of talent.
Is that unfair to Youk? Of course it is. Fans, especially those who root for Buffalo teams, should appreciate great talent even when it comes on a team that doesn’t win it all.
Fair or not, watching him walk off the field on Sunday left me wishing, for a moment, that there was more time for Youk. There's no question he deserved it, but eventually time decided for him, assisted by a young third baseman hitting the ball all over the place and demanding a spot on the field, just like he did eight short years ago. And even if I never loved this player with the kind of passion - both highs and lows - with which I have loved the Red Sox greats of the past decade, part of me wanted Youk to have a chance to bring me there. A chance to prove that "just... good" can sometimes be more than enough.
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