Heard it From Hoard: Column 22
Ft. Myers, FL
Every major league baseball clubhouse has a March Madness pool-it's as much a part of spring training as PFP (pitchers fielding practice) and SPF (sun protection factor). At the Boston Red Sox camp this year, former Bearcat Kevin Youkilis wasn't entirely heartbroken that Cincinnati didn't make the field of 65.
"It actually helped me out," Youkilis joked when we chatted in March. "Usually I pick 'em to go to the Final Four every year because I'm a homer. This year I didn't have to go with my heart-I could go with my head."
Sitting in the clubhouse in an old pair of Jordan-brand UC basketball shorts, the Red Sox starting first baseman lit-up at the opportunity to discuss Bearcat basketball.
"I follow it pretty closely, I'm not gonna lie", Youkilis said. "It was tough this year because I'm out in Arizona and it was a little harder to get games on TV. I think there's great success coming soon. Mick's gonna get 'em back on track. He's a fiery guy that has passion. To me, he's a smaller Huggins who looks like he has just as much heart and definitely knows the game."
Next to Hall-of-Famer Sandy Koufax, Youkilis is the most successful major leaguer to come out of the UC baseball program. Not bad for a slow, stocky kid out of Sycamore High School.
"I really didn't have that many offers to go Division 1. I was one of those guys who was always overlooked because of my body type. I was never one of the guys that stuck out. My dad graduated from the University of Cincinnati and I went to UC baseball camps as a kid. When I was 18 I met (UC baseball coach) Brian Cleary at his camp and about an hour after I got home he called me and said, 'We'd like you to come down here and talk about coming to UC.' I talked to my parents and decided that I'd stay home and play Division 1 baseball."
In four years as a Bearcat, Youkilis batted .366 and set school records with 53 HR and a .499 on-base percentage. The two-time All-American was drafted in the 8th round by Boston in 2001, and worked his way up the minor league ladder before becoming a full-time starter for the Red Sox last year.
With the hustling style of his childhood hero Pete Rose, Youkilis has become a fan favorite in Red Sox nation. My employer, the Pawtucket Red Sox, will honor him with a bobblehead night on August 4th.
"There was a Youkilis bobblehead night in (Class-A) Lowell last year. My mom and dad went to the game and my dad actually threw out the first pitch and people were asking him for autographs. It was great, and I bet they'll go to Pawtucket this year. They get a big kick out of it. It's an honor-you know you've made it when you get a bobblehead of yourself."
While Kevin has made it to the big leagues, he hasn't forgotten his roots.
"I'm a big fan of everything they do at UC and was excited to come back for homecoming last year. I've got gobearcats.com in my favorites and I'm always checking it out because I'll be a huge Bearcats fan until the day I die."
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