Posts Tagged ‘ Baseball ’

Kevin Youkilis Part 4

2007 was Kevin’s second full year with Red Sox. In 2007 he had 16 homers and 83 RBI’s, but what really stood out was his defense. In the regular season he had 0 errors- a 1.000 fielding percentage. Kevin earned his second World Series ring with the Sox, and the hardware didn’t stop there. That same year he also got a Gold Glove: “It’s quite an accomplishment. To have a great year and to win a Gold Glove means so much to me. It’s definitely a boost in the confidence level, knowing this award is the highest award you can get for fielding. I’m so proud for playing defense for all the pitchers and the other guys across the diamond.” Not only does Kevin hit for power and have a great glove, but in 2007 he also started having long at-bat’s.


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Youkilis enters his at-bats looking for a heater to hammer, and up until two strikes, if he doesn’t get the pitch he wants in the place he wants it, he doesn’t swing. It’s as simple as that. And he wants to see as many pitches as possible. “First at-bat, first pitch, I’m taking,” he says. Youkilis is trying to get a feel for the pitcher’s delivery, his velocity, how much movement is on the fastball, the lighting in the park, his own balance.

Overall this season, he’s taken the first pitch in 91.3% of his at-bats. Whether it’s a ball or a strike, Youkilis will continue to look for fastballs, continue to bear down and discipline himself to swing only at pitches that are in his hitting zone. Advance scouts say that he is exceptional at making adjustments, at understanding how pitchers are trying to get him out. But Youkilis doesn’t try to think along with the pitcher during an at-bat. “Some guys are good at guessing what’s coming” he says. “Kevin Millar, he could say, ‘Hey, with a 1-0 count, this guy is going to try to throw me a backdoor slider.’ I can’t do that.”

Instead, Youkilis looks fastball until he’s in a hole. “Then I use my hands a little more,” he says. “I shorten up my swing a little bit.” This gives him even more time to react. Through June, Youkilis was hitting .305 on two-strike counts, more than 100 points better than the league average. Says an AL general manager: “Some hitters panic when the count reaches two strikes, because they don’t feel equipped to deal with the pitcher’s out-pitch, whether it’s a good breaking ball or a changeup. But Youkilis is not afraid to hit with two strikes.”

So his at-bats tend to drag on, as he takes pitches and fouls them off in bunches. He averages more than 4.1 pitches per plate appearance, among the league leaders. He knows his long ABs will frustrate the guy on the mound, because he has listened to Red Sox pitchers come back to the dugout griping after opposing hitters have done the same thing. “There is nothing better than when you have a 10-pitch at-bat and then get a hit,” he says.

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So many long at-bats meant a lot of walks, and so many walks earned him the nickname The Greek God of Walks.

In 2008 Kevin had another great year of long at bats. He had 29 home runs and 115 Ribbies. On On April 2, 2008, he broke the Major League record for most consecutive error-less games by a first baseman. In 2008 he was also close to being awarded M.V.P. Although he was in the M.V.P hunt he didn’t think he deserved it. ”I don’t think I’m the M.V.P.” Youkilis said. Personally I think his spiritless attitude about getting M.V.P. hurt his chances. He finished sixth in balloting for the 2009 AL M.V.P.

Kevin Youkilis and Josh Beckett meeting Barack Obama

In 2009, Youkilis was 2nd in the American League in OBP .413 and OPS .961, 4th in hit by pitch 16, 5th in slugging percentage, and batted .305 overall and .362 with runners in scoring position. Those are some of the most ridonculous stats I have ever seen “He has skills, man,” said David Ortiz “I don’t know how he do it. He just do it.” A highlight for Kevin in 2009 was when Youkilis was picked to be a reserve player on the American League All-Star team by Tampa Bay and AL manager Joe Maddon, after coming in second in the vote to Mark Teixeira. During his time at the at the All Star game he got to meet Barack Obama.

With all of Kevin Youkilis’ fame and success, he has also experienced many tragedies. He has had multiple friends die from suicide. In 2009 another tragic death effected him. Youkilis’s friend, Greg Montalbano, died suddenly of testicular cancer. Youk played his next game in his friend’s memory. After inscribing “GM” in marker on his cap, he hit two homers in the game against the Yankees, while driving in six runs. Both times as he crossed home plate, he looked up and pointed to the sky. “That was for him,” Youkilis said. “There are some crazy things that have happened in my life. You … feel like there’s somebody out there somewhere pushing balls out for you, and doing great things.”

Here is a interview of Kevin after he hit to home runs dedicated to Greg Montalbano. (You will see the GM on his hat.)

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Made Baseball Player

Here is a great Made episode that turns a dancer in to a hard core baseball player.

Click “read more” for the MTV videos.

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The Pluses and Minuses of Kevin Youkilis’s Intensity – Part 3

Manny Jumping on Kevin Yoikilis

Manny Ramirez jumping at Kevin Youkilis.

Kevin Youkilis is a very intense person.

He has even been in a fight with his own teammate. Youkilis was mad and threw his helmet after a futile at-bat, when Manny Ramírez made it clear he hated Youk’s tantrum. Curse words were exchanged in the dugout, and Ramírez had to be restrained from jumping on  his teammate. The incident was caught on tape and widely reported.

This is what Kevin had to say about the tiff: “We have two different approaches to the game. Winning and losing isn’t life and death to Manny.” But we all know it is to Youk.  “Every at-bat matters to me and when it doesn’t work out, I need to release some of that negative energy.”  “I’ve tried the other way. For a while, when I made an out I just went and sat down. It doesn’t work for me. I’ve gotten better [at controlling myself], but what can I do? I can’t change who I am.”

On every at-bat Youk comes up thinking there are two outs, bases loaded, in the ninth inning of  Game 7 of the World Series. That often results in a base knock, but if he fails he freaks out and that can cause the Manny effect.

Kevin’s intensity and drive can sometimes tick off his opponents as well as his teammates. Here is what Mike Lowell said in reaction to Youk’s flare-up four years ago “In 2006, I couldn’t understand why he could be 2 for 2, then line out and the world was going to end” . . .

Not everyone on the team is so annoyed by Youk’s outbursts, Dustin Pedroia defends Youk this way: “He plays hard, puts the team in front of himself. I don’t know what else people want.”

Kevin Youkilis being restrained from going after Joba

From opponents, of course, there were more Kevin Youkilis incidents, like the time when Joba Chamberlan threw two straight fastballs at Kevin’s head. “I t was right at my head,” Youkilis  said. After being walked, Kevin had to be restrained from going after Chamberlan. And warnings were issued to both benches. ”If that young man is trying to get our attention, he did a very good job,” said Terry Francona; after all, Chamberlain “has great command until Youk gets in there.”

Joba denied that he was intentionally going after Youkilis (see video).

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On August 11, 2009, the Red Sox were playing the Detroit Tigers. Rick Porcello (the Tiger’s ace) hit Youk in the back with an 89-mph fastball on the first pitch of his at-bat.  This was the second time Youk had been plunked the Tigers pitching staff  in as many games. This time, Youk tried to do something about it: He charged the mound and the benches cleared.

Youk later expressed some regret about charging the mound, saying “For kids out there it’s not the way you should handle it . . . .”

Although Youkilis’s intensity sometime annoys his teammates and opponents and sometimes even leaves him regretful, he would never be the great player he has become were he less intense (see Part 1 of this series)  His quest for unrealistic levels perfection is his source of greatness — by trying to be perfect, he makes himself better.  In that way, Youkilis’s intensity sets a great example for kids.

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 4 is here.

Kevin Youkilis Part 2 (from the Minors to the Red Sox)

“There were times, it seemed, when the only one who believed [Kevin] Youkilis was a ballplayer was Youkilis himself,” wrote Chaz Scoggins of the Lowell Sun.

Those times are long gone. Indeed, as Theo Epstein pointed out, “statistically, if you consider 2008 and 2009, you could make the case there has been no better player [than Kevin Youkilis] in the league.”

In his best-selling book Moneyball, Michael M. Lewis told the story, of how analyzing baseball statistics rather than relying on traditional measures of performance–such as, a beautiful swing, strong arm, or speed–predicted more accurately the value of a palyer’s contribution to a team.  For example, on-base percentage (including walks) and total bases are more reliable than  a player’s batting average at predicting wins.  Such insights would have dramatic implications for how amateur players are drafted (see videos below).  Players who would have been overlooked in previous generations suddenly seemed more promising when analyzed using those new methods.  Youkilis was such a player.

“Youkilis was a fat third baseman who couldn’t run, throw, or field.”  Still, Paul DePodesta (quoted in Moneyball) argued that [t]he scouts ought to go have a look” at him.  Why?  Because the boy could get on base. Michael Lewis writes:

Inded, three months into his professional career, Youkilis had “the second highest on-base percentage in all of professional baseball, after Barry Bonds. To Paul, he’d become Euclis: the Greek god of walks.)

On May 15, 2004, Youkilis made his MLB debut. Youk was called up from AAA (just ten months from his last AA game), because Bill Mueller (the Red Sox third baseman) was put on the DL.

“It’s been great, a lot of fun,” Youkilis would say after his first start in the bigs. “The part of the situation that is not good is Bill [Mueller]. He is such a great guy and a huge part of this team.”

Youk expected to be in Boston only a fortnight but remained in Boston for six additional weeks because Bill underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. In 11 games, he hit .278 with a on-base percentage of .413. His early success gave him confidence: “I know I’m going to be playing,” Youkilis told reporters matter-of-factly. In April, however, Youkilis found himself on the way back down to Pawtucket, because the team needed to activate Curt Schilling.

Ben Jacobs of The Hard Ball Times asked Youkilis, “Do you see yourself as the future starting third baseman for the Red Sox?”

I hope. They don’t know ever. A big-market team, you never know what’s going to happen. For me, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Hopefully, that’s what’s going to happen some day, but for me, I’ve just got to go out and do what I’ve got to do to get myself better and get myself ready to help that team up there.

That August Bill Mueller was having back spasms in batting practice, so Kevin was called up again.    He was in Pawtucket’s clubhouse getting dressed for a game. Without changing out of the same white pants that he wore for the Pawtucket home games, he packed his car, sped to Boston, dashed  into the Red Sox clubhouse, threw on his jersey and cleats, and went out to take his place on third (not unlike Doug Mirabelli’s famous return to Boston).

The commuting was not over.  Kevin  would return to Pawtucket and play 43 more games in AAA.  Youkilis was asked by Ben Jacobs, “Having been a part of everything that went on last year for the Red Sox, how difficult is it being back in the minor leagues?”  Youk responded:

It’s difficult. There’s one guy that had to go down, go on waivers or whatever, and I was the only one that had options. You never want it to happen, but it happened and now I’ve got to deal with it.

Of course, even in the minors Kevin was gaining fame among baseball fans given his role in Moneyball.

In Part 3, I’ll discuss Kevin’s time as a full-time member of the Red Sox.

Watch the 60 minutes video after the jump.

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Kevin Youkilis “Get Back” Video

This month my theme is Kevin Youkilis. Here is a video I put together.

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Kevin Youkilis – Part 1: Early Life, College, and early Pro Career

Kevin Youkilis was born March 15, 1979, in Cincinnati Ohio. “Kevin was the most enthusiastic player that I can ever remember in three decades of coachng,” Ted Schumacher said. “Yet, he was never the heralded ‘star.’ . . . Kevin was a steady performer but far from sensational. Yet his work ethic and passion were second to none. He simply would never quit.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, Ted Schumacher, October 26, 2007.)

Box– Thu, May 29 10 second clip of Red Sox 1st baseman Kevin Youkilis at age 11 in the 1994 movie Milk Money with Ed Harris and Melanie Griffith. Youkilis is the older kid taking money from the younger kids. . .

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After he graduated from Sycamore High School in 1997, two Division 1 schools recruited him: Butler University and his ultimate choice, the University of Cincinnati. Youk chose Cincinnati over Butler University, because both his father and his long-time idol, Sandy Kofax, had attended UC.

The UC Bearcats had just had a terrible season of 12-46. At a winter camp the Bearcats Manager (Brian Cleary) spotted Youkilis and would later recount his impressions of the young player this way: “I looked at him and said, ‘Well, we need somebody.’ I’d love to tell you I saw something no one else did, but he was just better than what we had.” Indeed he was.  Youk excelled  all four years he played at UC and would become one of the few All-Americans to play as a Bearcat.  “I take no credit,” said Cleary. “He coaches himself. He knows his swing. Any time we said anything to him, he was already a step ahead. He made the adjustments he had to make. I just think he’s a really smart guy who had a great feel for what he had to do.”

Even with Kevin’s collegiate success and unmistakable work ethic, some people never thought he would make it to the bigs.  As Youkilis would recount,  “People told me throughout my college years that, ‘I don’t know. He’s kind of pudgy. He can’t really move around well. I don’t know if he can be a professional athlete.'”  However, Youk’s high school friend and college roommate always believed in him:  “He told me . . . . ‘The day you make it to the major leagues is the day I’ll be there.'”

In June, 2001, Youkilis made his MiLB debut. In that season, Youk walked so much that he tied the Minor League record for reaching base in consecutive games–an amazing string of 71. He got on base so much while he was in the Minor Leagues that his team nicknamed him ‘The Greek Of God of Walks.” Kevin reaches base half of the times he’s up to bat. When Youk was with the Sea Dogs, he walked 86 times in 94 games. Youkilis has such good vision he can  see the last row of the eye-test chart, in fact he  has 10/20 vision.

A coach at the time summarized Youk’s prospects as follows:  “I think he has a chance to play in the big leagues. The test now is to see him at another level.”  “If he’s able to make the adjustment (to Triple-A), I think he has a good chance. He’s been on the right path. If he keeps progressing up the ladder and is able to handle the pitching at each level you’ll see him (in Boston).”

On  May 15, 2004, Kevin Youkilis made his MLB Debut. In his second at-bat, Kevin hit a homer. The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a headline stating: “Youkilis enjoys ‘Pipp’ of a debut,” referring to Wally Pipp, the third baseman that Lou Gehrig replaced. “Any time you to come up in the big leagues, it’s your chance,” Youkilis said. “Hopefully, I’ll take as much as I can from it.” Fans who follow the Sox and non-fans who have often heard the crowd erupt in the now familiar “YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUK!” know that Kevin meant what he said.

Kevin’s promising debut, however, was bittersweet.  His old college friend who had been so supportive years before was not there to celebrate Youk’s transition into the majors.  Tragically, that friend had committed suicide during their sophomore year.  To this day, Kevin has been actively committed to suicide prevention efforts.

Another thing that Youkilis takes with him from his childhood is his taste in music.  He likes Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. “It’s the rap from when I was in high school,” Youkilis explains. “I have a wide variety of music but I still go back to that grunge era – Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam.” When he walks up to the plate at Fenway, you hear, Rick Ross’s “Push It to the Limit” blaring in the loud speakers.

Let’s all hope that Youkilis can succeed again in 2010 at pushing his baseball skills to the limit.

Here is a video called Get To Know Kevin Youkilis

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Red Sox 2010 Predictions

I am not optimistic that the Sox will do well in 2010. We lost Manny and Bay. Ortiz is not as good any more. Papelbon is no longer lights out. The Red Sox are also playing in the toughest division. And to make it worse the Yankees got better: they added an all-star center fielder, Curtis Granderson, to an all-star roster.  The only game-changer we added is John Lackey.  I think we will make it to the ALDS and then lose it in 7 games. Although I don’t think that the Sox will make it to the World Series, I am very excited about their season coming up. I think if we kept Jason Bay we might have won the World Series this year. I do hope that the Sox do great this year, but I just don’t see it happening.