Posted: 7 p.m.
In the little green ballpark where they once chanted "Loo-iee, Loo-iee" deep into the October nights they now scream, "Yoo-ook, Yoo-ook."
But even though Kevin Youkilis is a world champion twice over, he spent this most magical of Fenway Park harvests talking "Who-Dey."
"I got that orange 'Who-Dey' shirt online that they came out with this year," Youkilis is saying this week. "And I'm about to burn it. I think it's bad luck."
Youk's Bengals may be a stone cold 2-6, but one of the favorite sons of Bengaldom is one of the hottest players in the middle of baseball's hottest celebration. His Gold Glove and silver bat were rock-ribbed Midwest staples of the Red Sox's eclectic lineup that just claimed its second world title in four seasons.
The day the Sox polished off the World Series sweep in Colorado, ending three years of heartbreak, Youkilis spent the afternoon at Denver's ESPN Zone watching the Steelers continue the Bengals' misery. He has been catching that act for years. Something Red Sox-Yankeeish about it.
"Frustrating. I thought they had a chance because (Ben) Roethlisberger looked like he was off," Youkilis is saying. "You need defense. It's like the Colorado Rockies were a few years ago hitting all those home runs."
How big of a fan?
"I like the looks of (Andrew) Whitworth. He's huge. How big is that guy?" asks Youkilis of the Bengals left guard, and not because they look alike with their bald heads.
One day early this season before it all began, Youkilis saw one of the Patriots beat reporters in the Red Sox locker room. In Boston, everybody is on call to cover the "The Nation," and Youkilis began pumping him about New England's recent signing of Bengals free agent wide receiver Kelley Washington.
"It turns out," says John Tomase of The Boston Herald, "he knew a lot more about him than I did."
If it sounds like Youkilis is your typical, tried-and-tried-and-tried but true Bengals fan, he is because he grew up in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati in Sycamore Township in the '80s and '90s, a 10-year-old when the Bengals came within a Bosoxian 34 seconds of the Super Bowl title.
"It seems like we never go after free agents," says Youkilis, burnishing his credentials for Bengaldom.
If the kids of the Massachusetts North Shore in Salem, Danvers and Peabody are begging their parents to shave their heads like Youk, then it was Youkilis, now 28, who went to Riverfront Stadium loving guys like David Fulcher, James Brooks, and Anthony Munoz before embracing an exciting young linebacker named Takeo Spikes.
"I remember meeting Fulcher once. I think I was 11 because I had just broken my arm," Youkilis is saying. "He bought a diamond from my dad (a jeweler) and I remember going down there seeing him and that was a big thing. I mean, he was the man. He loved to hit and you had to love that."
In the middle of this season, about the time Youkilis looked as if he was going to out Wade Boggs with a 210-hit pace, he went to a Boston diabetes gala and found a Fulcher autographed football. Fired up that he was probably the only guy in the place that knew of Fulcher, he waited until the end of the silent auction to stake his claim
"I'm a defensive guy; I love defense," Youkilis says when asked which Bengal from the past or present he would be. "It would have to be Spikes. I played baseball, but I really love football. I'm a football guy."
Youkilis can also relate to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and not just because those 10 touchdowns are helping Youkilis run away with his fantasy league. He drafted Wes Welker first and not because he plays for the Patriots but "I was telling people Welker caught everything for Miami."
"The best thing that ever happened to T.J. is that he got drafted in the seventh round," Youkilis says. "It makes you better. It's easy to be one of those high-priced guys. When you don't have anything handed to you, it makes it tougher, but all that much better. I like guys that are just grinding it."
Of course he does. The back of Youkilis' baseball card is stamped "Grinder." An eighth-round pick as a senior out of the University of Cincinnati, Youkilis got $12,000 to sign and a plane ticket to Class A. Not until he punched in with 145 games this season has Youkilis now played in as many big-league ball games as he has minor-league games with 408.
(Football? It stopped after eighth grade, when the summer baseball games ran flush into summer workouts.)
Chuck Bresnahan, the Bengals defensive coordinator, loves the underdog story so much that he's often thought about bringing Youkilis in to speak to the defense. He met him last year at a Sycamore High School awards ceremony where Bresnahan's daughter was honored for her soccer prowess. Bresnahan, whose youth in New England qualifies him as a Red Sox National loyalist, easily fell into a conversation with him.
"Just a great kid," Bresnahan says. "You talk about a guy who has had to do it the hard way. He's really what it's all about. And you saw how unselfish he was."
Everybody saw it. Game 3 and Game 4 of the Series. With Red Sox manager Terry Francona stripped of the designated hitter, he opted to bench Youkilis, one of the hottest hitters on the planet who can play both first and third, in order to start icon David Ortiz at first base and soon-to-be Series MVP Mike Lowell at third base.
"I think he has the ability to somewhat step back and look at things logically, which [other] guys can't always do," Francona said of Youkilis at the time. "You're talking about David Ortiz and Mike Lowell. It's not like he's been benched. We're playing by the system."
Francona knew he could make the move because Youkilis wouldn't burn down the clubhouse. Youkilis laughs when asked what would have happened in the Super Bowl if a team's top player had been benched after halftime even though he had been brilliant in the first half.
"I guess it's a different game," Youkilis says. "When you're a team player, people want you around longer. When you win, you get all those things that you seek as an individual. If you're patient those things are going to happen."
Youkilis is now about to embark on the rubber chicken circuit that greets every world champion. But first things first. Youkilis, always the well-grounded Cincy kid, is bringing his fiancee home for Thanksgiving. Which includes his 10th high school reunion and the Bengals game at Paul Brown Stadium against the Titans.
It's also almost time for another trip to the Bengals Pro Shop via online.
"I always try to buy one of those polo shirts every year," he says. "If I don't have to be dressed up on the road, and the Bengals are playing, I'll wear it. I try to wear something Bengals on days that they play. I don't like wearing guys' jerseys. There's something I don't like about that."
Spoken like a true grinder.
"Keep going, don't look at the record," Youkilis is saying, asked if he has any advice for the team. "Play as hard as you can. You can't worry about it."
But Youkilis knows the Bengals may not want to hear very much from a baseball player. He still would like to hook up a race between Sox rookie centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and fellow Oregon State products Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson.
"Jacoby can really fly, Youkilis says. "That would be a great race."
The man they call "Youk" ought to know.
He's got to do some scouting for the next fantasy draft.