Kevin Youkilis will make his return to Fenway Park on Monday night. How will he be welcomed?
To cheer or to boo. That is the question.
It's been just a few weeks since Youkilis was traded to the White Sox. The deal pretty much had to happen, seeing as how Youkilis' struggles on the diamond were coinciding with the rise of young third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
But really, the writing was on the wall that Youkilis wasn't long for Boston as far back as April. All it took was one comment from new Red Sox manager from Bobby Valentine.
"I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason," said Bobby V back in April, via The Boston Globe.
Exactly why Valentine felt he had to go public with this opinion is something only he will ever know, but he shouldn't have done it. Regardless of whether or not he had a point, it's never good for a manager to throw one of his own players under the bus like that.
It's even worse when a new manager throws a veteran player under the bus like that. Valentine violated quite a few unwritten, time-honored baseball codes.
We all know the rest of the story. Youkilis got understandably annoyed, there was some grumbling within the clubhouse, and the hatchet was never completely buried. A couple months later, Youkilis was sent packing to Chicago.
After all this time and all that's transpired, one would think that Bobby V would have gotten over his early-season spat with Youkilis. On Sunday morning, however, he still sounded bitter about it.
"I think the comment I made early, [Youkilis] made a big issue out of, and I don't think he ever wanted to get over it," he said, via ESPNBoston.com.
When he was asked whether their relationship became strained after Valentine's initial comments came out, Valentine responded: "I have no idea. It was whatever he wanted it to be."
Say what you will about Valentine, but you have to admit that he's nothing if not honest. He's made it quite clear in his brief time as the manager of the Red Sox that he's not about to censor himself just for the sake of crafting an image as a goody two-shoes.
This is a habit that rubs a lot of baseball fans the wrong way, and it's clear several months into the season that most Red Sox fans aren't about to start apologizing for Valentine just because he's the manager of the Red Sox. Red Sox Nation is just as skeptical about Bobby V as the rest of the nation.
But this is a situation where Red Sox fans have to at least consider whether Bobby V's stance on Youkilis has any legs. With his various comments this season, Valentine has basically tried to cast Youkilis as a bad guy. And frankly, Valentine would know if Youkilis really was a bad guy better than all the Red Sox fans who viewed him as one of the team's most preeminent heroes over the last several seasons.
In other words, Red Sox fans have to consider the possibility that Youkilis was indeed a cancerous presence who had to be jettisoned.
Bad guys, of course, don't deserve to be treated as returning heroes. If Red Sox fans decide to take Valentine's word for it that Youkilis was a slacker and a problem child during his time with the Red Sox in 2012, the boos will come raining down.
It would be as if Youkilis was returning to Fenway Park as a member of the Yankees. Red Sox players who bolt for the Yankees (see: Damon, Johnny) don't tend to be greeted warmly by the Fenway Faithful, who view them as scoundrels and betrayers.
That's how Youkilis could be greeted if Red Sox Nation decides to take Bobby V's word for it that Youkilis was a bad guy, and why not? If all of what Valentine has said is actually true, Youkilis clearly cared more about himself than he did about the team. In baseball (and indeed, any sport), that's a cardinal sin.
Players like that deserve to be booed. So if you believe Bobby V and you're going to be at Fenway on Monday night, you should feel free to boo Youkilis to your heart's content.
It's either that, or your can cheer Youkilis. To do this, all you have to do is look at the situation with a less complicated perspective.
Red Sox Nation made it pretty clear what it thought of Youkilis the day he played his last game in a Red Sox uniform back on June 24. The vibe in the air at Fenway Park that day was that any at-bat by Youkilis could be his last as a member of the Red Sox, so he was cheered pretty much any time he did anything. When he was removed from the game in the seventh inning, he walked off the field to the tune of a standing ovation.
This was just a couple weeks ago. It's not at all likely that Red Sox fans are going to do a complete 180 because Youkilis is returning to Fenway as a member of another team and/or because Valentine decided to air some dirty laundry over the weekend.
It's far more likely that Red Sox fans will remember all that Youkilis did as a member of the Red Sox between 2004 and 2012, and all he did in that span was help the team win two World Series titles while establishing himself as one of the top corner infielders in baseball.
Through it all, no member of the Red Sox was as fiery a competitor as Youkilis, and that's something that Red Sox Nation tended to appreciate—even when it led to, ahem, confrontations.
Youkilis was not blind to the love he got from Red Sox Nation during his career in Boston. In fact, he went out of his way to thank Red Sox fans for all their support over the years in a letter than he issued via ESPNBoston.com.
The letter thanked all the usual suspects, such as his family, the Red Sox's ownership and management, former manager Terry Francona and the New England populace, but this is how it wrapped up:
And, last but no means least, to all the Red Sox Nation, the home of the most dedicated and knowledgeable fans in baseball, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. That final game at Fenway was the most emotional day of my life on the baseball field. It could not have been scripted any better. And to all those kids out there in Red Sox Nation, I can give you my Dad’s advice. “Life is like a throw to first base, always aim high.”
I love you all, and thanks,
So yeah, he very much heard the cheers the last time he was on the field at Fenway Park. And wouldn't you know it, he felt them too.
If those cheers turn to boos on Monday night, he'll hear and feel those, too.
It's your call, Red Sox Nation. At Fenway Park on Monday night, you can either get behind Bobby Valentine or you can give Kevin Youkilis a hero's welcome.
I think we all know how this is going to pan out.
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