CORRYVILLE – Once dubbed the “Greek God of Walks,” Kevin Youkilis walked to home plate at Marge Schott Stadium on Saturday to have his No. 36 retired by the University of Cincinnati.
After 206 free passes at UC and 539 more as a member of the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, Youkilis has reached Bearcat baseball immortality.
“For this day to happen and everything that happened, it’s just amazing,” Youkilis said. “To be up side of Glenn Sample and Ed Jucker means a lot. You hear the stories and all of the great things they did for this university. It’s awesome!”
Sample was a multi-sport athlete and long-time baseball coach, while Jucker also served as baseball coach prior to becoming more widely known as the coach of UC’s back-to-back NCAA basketball champions.
Jucker also is the man who got a youngster from Brooklyn off of the freshman basketball team and into a baseball uniform. His name was Sandy Koufax, and he has much in common with Youkilis.
Youkilis, like Koufax, is Jewish. If the Dodger great and Hall of Famer had pitched more than one season at UC, his number would also be retired. As it stands, nowhere in the records or photo archives at UC is there a Koufax uniform number.
For his career spanning 1997-2001, Youkilis classifies himself as UC’s second-most famous Jewish player behind Koufax, with former teammate and catcher Nate Fish also worthy of mention.
“I think Nate Fish is the No. 1 character,” Youkilis said chuckling. “We’re just honored to have three names here. Fish is involved in the Jewish community and is the director of baseball in Israel. He’s done great things for the game of baseball.”
Fish played with Youkilis in the days before Marge Schott Stadium at Johnny Bench Field. Both were able to meet Koufax when he last appeared at UC in 2000 to honor Coach Jucker.
“He did a lot of great things in a short period of time that was Hall of Fame-worthy,” Youkilis said of the hard-throwing legend.
In the meantime, “Youk” went on to make quite a name for himself. The Sycamore High School grad is still UC’s all-time leader in games played, runs scored, home runs, on-base percentage, and naturally, walks. He was a .366 career hitter and joins Tony Campana and Josh Harrison as Bearcats under then-coach Brian Cleary to make it to the big leagues.
Youkilis was an eighth-round pick in 2001 and made his debut for Boston in 2004 with a homer in his second at-bat. The first baseman/third baseman went on to win World Series rings with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. His best statistical year was 2008, when he hit .312 with 43 doubles, 29 home runs and 115 RBI. He won the Gold Glove in 2007, the Hank Aaron Award in 2008 and was a three-time All-Star.
In Boston, his notoriety grew to the point where it was difficult to be in public. However, returning to Sycamore Township and Cincinnati often allowed him to be unnoticed.
“I’m definitely not as well known here as in Boston,” he said. “I think if I were Joey Votto walking around town, it would be a lot different or Pete Rose or Johnny Bench. Sports are local. Fans flock to guys on their sports team locally.”
The guy who had the odd batting stance as a Bearcat is now a part-time assistant with the Cubs. The northern California resident scouts college players in the San Francisco Bay Area and attends spring training. His hitting advice is simple and solid.
“I don’t really mess with stances too much,” he said. “I just try to show them the right path to the ball. It doesn’t matter where you start; it’s where you finish.”
Away from the game, Youkilis is finishing up a project with his San Francisco chef brother, Scott. It’s a brew pub called Foglight Alehouse featuring the beers of the Foglight Brewing Co.
“Hopefully, we’ll be open this fall,” Youkilis said. “It’s in a town called Los Gatos, which is Spanish for ‘The Cats.’ It’s only fitting.”