Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kevin Youkilis

Kevin Edmund Youkilis (born March 15, 1979), also known as "Youk", is an American professional baseball player with the Boston Red Sox of Major League Baseball. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, he was drafted by the Red Sox in 2001 after playing college baseball at the University of Cincinnati. Known for his ability to get on base, Youkilis (while still a minor leaguer) was nicknamed "The Greek God of Walks" in the best-selling book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. A Gold Glove Award-winning first baseman, he once held baseball's record for most consecutive errorless games at first base (later broken by Casey Kotchman). He is also a two-time MLB All-Star, two-time World Series Champion, and winner of the 2008 Hank Aaron Award. An intense performer on the playing field, Youkilis is known for his scrappiness, grittiness, dirt-stained jerseys, and home-plate collisions. He has excelled despite a physique that led many observers to underestimate his athletic ability: he was called "roly-poly" by his high school coach, "pudgy" by his college coach, a "fat kid" by general manager Billy Beane, and a "thicker-bodied guy" by the Red Sox scout who recruited him. Or, as Jackie MacMullan wrote for the Boston Globe: "He does not look like an MVP candidate; more a refrigerator repairman, a butcher, the man selling hammers behind the counter at the True Value hardware store." Youkilis was named to the Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball, ranking No. 36 on the list in 2009, No. 38 in 2010, and No. 35 in 2011. The Youkilis family name has an unusual history. His Jewish great-great-great-grandfather, a native of 19th-century Romania, moved to Greece at the age of 16 to avoid conscription at the hands of the notoriously anti-Semitic Cossacks. He became homesick, however, and returned to Romania after a couple of years, although he changed his surname from "Weiner" to the Greek name, "Youkilis", to avoid army and jail. "People have come up to me and starting speaking Greek to me and I don't speak it," Youkilis said. "I feel bad. Ever since I was in Lowell (Class A), people have thought I was Greek. People shout at me, 'I'm Greek, you're Greek.' But I'm not." Youkilis is the son of a Romanian Jewish jewelry wholesaler, who Youkilis has described as a "well-known third baseman in the Jewish Community Center fast-pitch softball league." At the age of 14, Youkilis had an uncredited one-line speaking role in the romantic comedy film, Milk Money. He attended Sycamore High School in the north-eastern suburbs of Cincinnati, where he played third base, shortstop, first base, and the outfield for the school team which won the AAU National Championship in 1994, and he was the only player to homer off of current Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook in high school.

In 2001, Youkilis made his professional debut as a third baseman with the Lowell Spinners, a Short-Season A Class franchise in the New York-Penn League. He went on to lead the league with a .512 OBP, 52 runs, and 70 walks (against just 28 strikeouts), while hitting for a .317 batting average (third in the league) in 59 games.In 2002, Youkilis appeared in 15 games for Augusta, in 76 games for the Sarasota Sox (40 of them at first base), and in 44 games for the Trenton Thunder. He hit .310, with eight home runs and 80 RBIs for the year, and he was voted Trenton's "Player of the Year."In 2003, Youkilis started the season with the Portland Sea Dogs. In 94 games, he led the Eastern League with a .487 on base percentage (best all-time for the team through 2007), and was third in the league with a .327 batting average (second-best all-time for the team through 2007).On May 15, 2004, when Red Sox regular starting third baseman Bill Mueller was placed on the disabled list, Youkilis was called up for the first time.On September 24 of that year, which was Yom Kippur, Youkilis appeared in the dugout in uniform, but declined to participate in the game out of deference to the religious holiday. Youkilis was named the club's Rookie of the Year by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.While virtually nobody else knew it, Youkilis broke his toe during spring training in 2005, and was back playing again in a matter of days. It was "in Vero Beach", Youkilis said. "I was trying to make the team."In 2006, his first full season in the majors, Youkilis became a regular first baseman (with 127 games at first). Until that time, he was primarily a third baseman, though he did play nine games at first base with the Red Sox in 2005, and 56 games at first base in his minor league career.

Youkilis had a career-high 23-game hitting streak starting on May 5, 2007, and ending on June 2, 2007, in which he hit .426 (43–101) with 13 doubles, 6 HRs, 21 RBIs, and a .468 OBP. At one point during the hitting streak, he had 9 straight games with at least two hits (tying a Red Sox record set by Jim Rice in 1978), and became the first Red Sox hitter since Trot Nixon to hit an inside-the-park home run.On April 2, 2008, on an unassisted game-ending play against the Oakland A's, Youkilis broke the Major League record for most consecutive error-less games by a first baseman, previously held by Steve Garvey, at 194 games. In his 205th game without an error on April 27, Youkilis also established a new major league record for first basemen, when he fielded his 1,701st consecutive chance without an error, passing the old mark of 1,700 set by Stuffy McInnis from 1921 to 1922. His streak, which started on July 4, 2006, was snapped at 238 games (2,002 fielding attempts) on June 7, 2008 against the Seattle Mariners.Youkilis signed a four-year, $41.25 million contract with the Red Sox on January 15, 2009. The deal also included a team option (at $14 million, with a $1.25 million buyout) for 2013. Later that year, he was voted # 36 on the Sporting News list of the 50 greatest active baseball players, voted on by a panel that included members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.In 2010, Youkilis was again named to Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball, ranking No. 38 on the list. A panel of 21 MLB executives was polled to arrive at the list. In 2011, Youkilis was again named to Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball, ranking No. 35 on the list. A panel of 21 MLB executives was polled to arrive at the list. Youkilis was named to the 2011 AL All Star team, for the 82nd All Star Game. At the All Star break, he was 3rd in the league in doubles (26), 4th in on base percentage (.399), 6th in RBIs (63), 7th in OPS (.911), and 9th in walks (49).

Youkilis was featured in the 2008 Hank Greenberg 75th Anniversary edition of Jewish Major Leaguers Baseball Cards, published in affiliation with Fleer Trading Cards and the American Jewish Historical Society, commemorating the Jewish Major Leaguers from 1871 through 2008. He joined, among other Jewish major leaguers, Ryan Braun, Brad Ausmus, Ian Kinsler, Brian Horwitz, Gabe Kapler, Jason Marquis, Jason Hirsh, John Grabow, Craig Breslow, and Scott Schoeneweis. He was one of three Jewish players in the 2008 All-Star Game, joining Braun and Kinsler, and one of three Jewish players on the Team USA 2009 World Baseball Classic team, joining Braun and Grabow. Kinsler says that "Youkilis always says something to me on the bases. 'Happy Passover,' he'll throw something at me." Youkilis was named the Jewish MVP for 2008, beating out fellow All-Stars Braun and Kinsler. He was voted the top Jewish baseball player of the decade 2000–09 in online balloting, beating out Shawn Green and Braun. Through the 2010 season, his .294 batting average placed him 6th on the career all-time list (directly behind Phil Weintraub) for batting average by Jewish major leaguers, his 112 home runs placed him 8th (behind Braun), and his 470 RBIs placed him 9th (behind Ausmus). Kevin Youkilis Hits For Kids is a charitable organization established by Youkilis in 2007. Youkilis's foundation focuses on raising support and awareness for the health, advocacy, safety, and medical healing of children across Massachusetts, in his hometown of Cincinnati, and beyond. Rallying the support of volunteers, local business, and the heart of Red Sox Nation, Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids teams with existing, community-based children's charities and medical research efforts that lack sufficient funding and awareness. One organization that Hits for Kids works with is the Joslin Diabetes Center's Pediatric Health Services. He has a special sensitivity about youth suicide, since his college roommate, a close and supportive friend of his since high school, committed suicide on Thanksgiving during his sophomore year. To this day, he said, "I sit back at night and wonder what I could’ve done." "In my religion, the Jewish religion, that's one of the biggest things that's taught, is giving a mitzvah, forming a mitzvah", said Youkilis. "I was always taught as a kid giving to charity. You're supposed to give a good amount of charity each and every year.... It's just a great thing when you can make a kid smile that's going through some hard times in life ... I wish more people, not just athletes, would give people just a little bit of their time. It doesn't take much ... It can make a huge difference." After the first game of the ALDS, Youkilis re-shaved his head for good luck in a sign of solidarity with cancer patient Mitt Campbell. Following the team's 2007 World Series victory, Youkilis shaved his goatee for a $5,000 donation by Gillette to his foundation. All profits from his charity wine "SauvignYoouuk Blanc", released in 2008, support Hits for Kids.

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