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Youk returns to Fenway, talks Japan, injury

BOSTON -- Right-handed relievers Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara weren't the only Japanese imports at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.

Former Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis, returning to celebrate the team's 10-year anniversary of their 2004 World Series championship, was at Fenway for the first time since returning from a short stint in Japan playing for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Youkilis said that his time in Japan was cut short due to a bout with plantar fasciitis.

"It was hurting me pretty bad," Youkilis said. "It's just unfortunate, I thought I got rid of it finally and it just came up and bit me."

In his nine years playing for the Red Sox, Youkilis battled foot injuries on several occasions, most notably when plantar fasciitis plagued his left foot during the 2006 season. Now 35 years old and a free agent, Youkilis said that he will receive shockwave treatment on his foot in the hopes that he can make a comeback as early as this season.

"I've got to go for my treatment, hopefully we'll see about this year," Youkilis said. "We'll see, you never know. I'm just going to get myself in the best shape possible to do whatever I can do."

Youkilis last played in the major leagues with the New York Yankees in 2013, batting .219 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 28 games before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.

Despite receiving offers from several other teams during the offseason, Youkilis signed a one-year, $4 million deal to play with Rakuten in December. Taking the field alongside notable major leaguers such as Andruw Jones and former Red Sox reliever Takashi Saito, Youkilis batted .215 with a home run and 11 RBIs in 21 games with the Golden Eagles. Youkilis said the decision to play in Japan was one made with his family in mind.

"I didn't see my family a lot [in 2013] and over the past few years," Youkilis said. "My family has been my crutch, they hold me up. Being away from them is the worst thing for me.

"I never thought about it until I got a phone call from my agent and he asked about it. My wife said, 'Let's do this, let's try this experience of going over there.'"

So Youkilis, his wife, Julie (Tom Brady's sister), and their daughter moved to Japan. They enrolled their daughter in an international school, where she learned Japanese while attending class.

"It was definitely a unique experience. It was fun just being in a different culture, learning a different language," Youkilis said. "These fans get really into it, they're amazing."

Besides different looks from pitchers and a small-ball approach, Youkilis said that baseball in Japan is similar to the game he played for 10 seasons in America. That includes remaining active and being in good shape, something Youkilis said he'll look to get back to while recovering from his injury.

"I know one thing, even if I don't play baseball, I've got to stay in great shape," Youkilis said.