Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis continues his player diary for ESPNBoston.com. In the second installment, he discusses being an All-Star at age four, why he's not a big fan of the new stats baseball keeps, and how he's doing in the team's NCAA tournament pool. (As told to Louise K. Cornetta)
Spring training gets old when there's about a week left. The thing is just stretching every day, the long stretches and stuff like that can get old. I think when the last week hits, you're just excited and ready to play the season. The guys are excited and know where they are going to be whether in Triple-A or on the ball team. I think that helps out with your mindset. It allows the team to know what guys are going to be there. You come together. Then you go to an exhibition game and then home to play. It will happen real fast. You try and enjoy it while you can. Some parts are good, like you get to go out to dinner. During the season, you never get to go out to dinner. That's the best part. But about this time, you're ready for meaningful games.
For St. Patrick's Day, that's what I did. I went out to dinner with the family. It was also my buddy's 40th birthday. So we hung out with him a little bit. Pretty good to have your birthday on St. Patrick's Day. He has some fun with that. For the game, we wear green hats and a green jersey. I still have the hat in my locker. The jerseys they donate. I've got all kinds of things I've kept over the years back at the house. Some day all the green hats will be put somewhere there.
While I'm thinking about home, I got started playing baseball in our backyard with my older brother and my dad. My dad played fastpitch softball. When we were younger, we just played baseball all the time in the backyard. It went from there to playing organized baseball when I was four -- playing Tee Ball. The league needed more players and I was a year younger than everyone else. My dad thought I was good enough to play and threw me out there. I think I did well because I made the All-Star team, which is funny at age four. So, maybe there wasn't very good talent that year.
Nah, it was just one of those things where they needed extra kids to play and my dad signed me up. That is the first time I ever played organized baseball. I was always good at baseball at a younger age, but you never know how far it's going to take you in life. For me, I just went year to year playing the game and practicing as much as I could.
My dad built a batting cage in our backyard. I used to wear him out and make him throw like a hundred baseballs until the jug of balls was empty. It was a lot of hitting and a lot of time and effort on his part. It was a little tiresome for him going out there, but he always says the whole cage paid off in the end.
He always had a passion for baseball growing up. When he became a father and had three boys that was always his passion and he's always been a huge baseball fan. He kind of steered us in that direction. My younger brother didn't play as much as my older brother and I. He never was very hard on us to get better or anything like that. He just loved watching us play the game.
Last time, I told you guys to be on the lookout for something funny I was going to do with my charity, Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids. I came up with an idea for the fans to have fun with and something to vote on to raise money for my charity. You have four choices for what kind of facial hair you want me to have: Fu Manchu, clean shaven or goatee. You go online at Youkskids.org and follow the directions to vote by writing which facial hair you want me to have. It's a dollar a vote. One of the things we find is that there are a lot of people out there that want to help out some way, but can't afford it in hard times. Maybe they can only afford a little bit and this is one way. We also have good sponsors who are going to step in and put in good amounts of money. My teammates, well a couple, want the mustache to win. A few want the Fu Manchu and a few want the goatee, so it's kind of neck and neck right now. We'll see how it all plays out.
Speaking of my teammates, we did an NCAA tournament pool. My teams are still in it. I have Kansas and Kentucky in different brackets. Some of the other ones weren't too good. Ohio beating Georgetown, that really hurt me. I'm from Ohio, I know, but there are too many Ohio teams that are always in the tournament between Xavier, Ohio State and Ohio. That's too many teams. But we don't have any pride with Xavier, so we never try and root for them.
The biggest smack talker in our pool is Jonathan Papelbon. It's always Papelbon. He always thinks he's going to win. Somehow he's always talking smack about getting the best bracket. Dustin Pedroia is another one talking a little smack. It's just in their nature, so why not? In baseball or in the NCAA tournament brackets that's when they talk the most smack.
Another thing we like to have fun talking smack about is the Mayor's Cup. Ah, the Mayor's Cup. In case you don't know, we play the Twins a lot because they are based in Fort Myers, too. Whoever wins the most games against each other wins this trophy called the Mayor's Cup, which we have sitting in our locker room right now because we won last year. I think it's been a running joke around here for a long time. For us, we just go out there and play the game.
I mean, we play to win every day in spring training. People ask me all the time if we won today and I'm always like I have no idea. Usually we're out of here by the sixth inning, so we don't know the final score. We just go out there and try and work on things to get ourselves better for the season.
For me, the Mayor's Cup is fun. We joke around with the Minnesota players. We have a pretty good bond with a couple of guys over there. I guess it makes it exciting and fun and brings a little enjoyment to spring training when you play each other seven times. You've got to have something that livens up the game.
Here's my scouting report on how I see us. We're a great team from top to bottom. A lot of bench, a lot of depth in the pitching, so I think we're a really good team. Our front office and coaching staff have done a good job of allowing us to fight for an American League Championship.
I am not a fan of these new stats like UZR [Ultimate Zone Rating] because it's baseball and it's not a formula. You've got to hit the ball. It's like the Bull Durham line when the coach gets mad at the team, "It's a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball." When you try to dissect and break it down scientifically and philosophically, there's too much out there that people try and focus on and put on their computer. The game was played a different way back in the day.
I thought it was great Nomar retired a Red Sox player. When you think of Nomar, you think of the Red Sox. You don't think of any other teams. When you think of Nomar Garciaparra, you think of number five and shortstop and those amazing years he had with the Red Sox and the numbers and stats he put up. Just the overall excitement he brought to the fans of Boston was pretty special and unique.
He's an ESPN analyst now. It will probably be a little tough for him at first sitting back and analyzing players. I think a lot of guys that go into that have a hard time too because they don't want to step on toes and say the wrong things because they remember how hard the game was. I was talking to Sean Casey. He says it's a whole different world now that he's a broadcaster. I think Nomar will be good. He's smart. He's very intelligent. He's a guy that's going to take the player's side. He might get yelled at by ESPN sometimes to go the other way, but he'll probably stand his ground.
We open with the Yankees. At least we get our Sunday Night Baseball game out of the way. We only get five of those on ESPN. So let's get them out of the way real soon so we don't have to do it down the road. We did it after the 2004 season too in '05 we started with the Yankees at home. Maybe get the rivalry games out of the way early, so it doesn't get too crazy and congested in the clubhouse with all the media. So maybe get those out of the way and then focus on a daily basis on just playing ball.