|Dustin Pedroia (left) greets Youkilis as he leaves the field as a member of the Red Sox for the final time. (Getty)|
As David Ortiz said so eloquently the other day as the Red Sox were battling the latest in a season-long series of brush fires, it's his clubhouse. And for the past decade, it has been.
But Kevin Youkilissublet a large chunk of real estate within those cramped Fenway Park quarters as the heart and soul of the recent-vintage Red Sox.
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Especially, the 2007 club that made New England the capital of the baseball world with a second World Series title in four seasons.
As Youk now changes his socks from Red to White, with him goes an era. And the Fenway Park culture change marches onward.
He said farewell with a seventh-inning triple in Sunday's 9-4 win over Atlanta, and tipped his cap as he left the field upon being replaced by pinch-runner Nick Punto. Cody Ross later said that manager Bobby Valentine walked down the dugout informing the Red Sox of what was about to happen, and his teammates were all waiting on the top step of the dugout as fans delivered Youkilis one more standing ovation.
"He deserved it," Ross said on the Red Sox post-game radio show. "He's so loved here in this city. He poured his heart and soul out day after day. He brought them two world championsips [Youkilis was a rookie in 2004].
"He's definitely going to be missed."
In many ways, yes. But Youkilis is not the player he once was. At 33, the years and the miles are adding up. Youkilis was struggling to hit .225 with four homers and 13 RBI in 41 games for the Red Sox this season. At this stage, he's an upgrade over Orlando Hudson and Brent Morel at third base in Chicago, but he's no longer the Gold Glover and All-Star he turned himself into in Boston.
That last part ... that's the legacy part, the part that remains so important in Boston. When the Red Sox drafted him in the eighth-round of the 2001 draft, he had been famously dubbed as the "Greek God of Walks" by an Athletics club knee-deep in the Moneyball era. But as he developed, Youkilis became far from a one-dimensional player whose chief weapon was strike-zone recognition.
Youkilis was a down-and-dirty grinder who pushed himself and his team further and further, never settling for what what was when the what-could-be was within reach.
He became a Gold Glover in 2007 and led the Red Sox with a .388 post-season batting average as they proved they could win a World Series title without characters such as Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar.
He became an All-Star in 2008, finished third in the AL MVP voting, then was named as the Red Sox MVP in 2009 after another All-Star appearance.
Youkilis understood what it meant to play baseball in Boston. He never short-changed anybody on the field, and he embraced his New England baseball ambassador role to the fullest. When things became combustible in Fenway Park, Youkilis remained cool.
But for all of that, there was not much he could do when rookie Will Middlebrooks hit the ground running earlier this year. A fifth-round pick in the 2007 draft, Middlebrooks has given lift to a Red Sox team that was sluggish from Day One, and maybe more important organizationally, he gives Boston a chance to reap great rewards from home-grown players at third base well into another decade.
What that decade will bring to the Fens remains unknown.
The only thing we know for certain as Youkilis changes socks and moves into the AL Central pennant race is, if Middlebrooks develops into even 75 percent of the productive leader Youkilis was, the Red Sox will be in terrific shape.