It was as if Kevin Youkilis never changed the color of his Sox.
I'm guessing you saw what unfolded at Fenway Park on Monday night. After being traded by the Red Sox in late June, Youkilis made his return to Boston as a member of the Chicago White Sox for the first time. He was given a warm greeting, to say the least.
I would put it in words, but it's better if you just head over to MLB.com to check out the moving-pictures highlights of Youk's return. The big moment was his first at-bat of the game in the first inning, before which he was given a standing ovation. He responded by tipping his cap, much to the crowd's satisfaction.
Then he went out and collected three hits, including two doubles, and scored the White Sox's only run of the game. The Red Sox won by the final of 5-1 thanks to a little help from Adrian Gonzalez, but in all the game was a pretty cool experience for Youkilis.
"They’ve been great to me," he said afterward of Red Sox fans, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "I can’t say thank you enough for the support they’ve given me."
He should have expected nothing less. His tenure in Boston may have come to an ugly end, but he did more than enough during his eight-plus years with the Red Sox to earn the adoration of Red Sox Nation. The people of the Nation have a tendency to remember who their friends are (see Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Orlando Cabrera, Trot Nixon, et al).
And if Red Sox Nation made anything clear on Monday night, it's that Bobby Valentine still has plenty of work to do before he can shoulder his way into the Nation's circle of trust.
I wrote on Monday that Red Sox fans were going to have to make a choice on Monday night.
One option was to support the team's current manager, who has bad-mouthed Youkilis on multiple occasions this season for being a slacker and a cancerous presence within Boston's clubhouse when he was still with the team.
The other option was to completely disregard the bad noise between Bobby V and Youk, and to cheer him like former Red Sox heroes deserve to be cheered.
From what I've been able to gather, the are some Red Sox fans out there who have no love lost for Youkilis. There are some who think he gave up on the Red Sox and a few others who seem to have never liked Youkilis in the first place.
But let's face it. The odds of the denizens of Fenway Park booing Youkilis on Monday night were about equal to the odds of him flying to New York to make a pinch-hit appearance for the Yankees in a pressure situation. It just wasn't going to happen.
And for good reason. Youkilis was around when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and he was a key member on the team that won it all in 2007. Between 2008 and 2010, the only first basemen to compile higher WARs than Youkilis were Albert Pujols and Joey Votto, according to FanGraphs.
His achievements alone were enough to earn Youkilis a warm welcome. He further convinced Red Sox Nation to give him a warm greeting with the letter he issued via ESPNBoston.com that thanked Red Sox fans for being the "most dedicated and knowledgeable fans in baseball."
Clearly, there are no hard feelings on Youk's end. He reaffirmed this after Monday night's game, according to The Boston Globe, saying that he has "no regrets" about his time in Boston. He's chosen to remember the good times instead.
So did Red Sox fans. Boston is a classic "What have you done for me lately?" baseball town, but nostalgia mattered more than anything else on Monday night.
And that includes Bobby Valentine's opinions of Youkilis.
First, Valentine was of the mind that Youkilis wasn't "as physically or emotionally into the game" as he used to be. Then, more recently, it was that Youkilis never "wanted to get over" Valentine's first opinion. If Valentine is to be believed, Youkilis let his manager's criticism linger, and in doing so effectively made himself a ticking time bomb that needed to be jettisoned.
Red Sox fans were generally on board with the idea, but there never was any hatred for Youk at any point between April and June.
Just think of how differently Red Sox Nation would have viewed Youkilis if Terry Francona had come out and ripped him in 2011. Red Sox fans probably would have taken his word for it and turned on Youkilis immediately. He would have returned to a mixed reaction, at best.
Valentine doesn't have this kind of power of Red Sox Nation yet, and it's not hard to discern why he doesn't. It's bad enough that he's the new guy in town who arrived amid reports that he wasn't general manager Ben Cherington's first choice for the job.
Also working against Valentine in the court of public opinion is the fact that his last job was as an ESPN baseball stooge who had clownish tendencies on camera.
Make no mistake, he arrived with a reputation that many in Red Sox Nation found to be disagreeable. In the first couple months of the season, he hasn't done anything to shake that reputation. If anything, he's proved that there's no difference whatsoever between the perception of Bobby V and the reality of Bobby V.
Red Sox fans may yet come to like Valentine. Winning cures all in baseball, and that's all it's going to take for Red Sox fans to come around to Bobby V.
Winning is what it all came down to on Monday night. At this point in time, Red Sox fans have witnessed Kevin Youkilis win a hell of a lot more games with the Red Sox than Bobby Valentine. That's why Youk got cheers instead of boos.
Valentine has to win a lot more games before he can even hope to have the power to manipulate the hearts and minds of Red Sox Nation.
And since he only has a two-year contract, he better get cracking.
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