Kevin Youkilis‘ baseball career hasn’t been the same since he left Boston in June 2012. The 34-year-old is opening up a new chapter rather than shutting the book, though, and it’s largely because of his family values.
Youkilis signed a one-year contract with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League. The deal reportedly is worth $4 million and carries an extra $1 million in incentives, although the deal, according to Youkilis, is more about the life experience that he and his family will enjoy together in a foreign land.
“I asked my wife and she said, ‘Oh my God, that would be awesome.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And she was all for it,” Youkilis told WEEI.com’s Alex Speier. “I asked my parents, my in-laws, our immediate family and everyone thought it would be a really cool experience.
“I understand, it sounds kind of crazy — why wouldn’t you just want to sign with an East Coast team this year and take your family? But the hardest thing is my daughter is in a curriculum, has friends in her school and we felt like it would be the same thing over again. We have to leave her in school and they’ll come to wherever I play after school’s over and that just wasn’t ideal to [play on the East Coast].”
Youkilis, whose family is currently stationed in California, expressed a desire to play for an MLB team on the West Coast, but interest in the Bay Area was somewhat limited, largely because the veteran infielder missed most of 2013 with back injuries. He played in just 28 games upon signing a one-year, $12 million deal with the Yankees last offseason, opening up questions this offseason about whether he might consider retirement.
Youkilis told Speier that he received interest from the Rays, Orioles, Yankees, Royals and Indians, among others, but that being close to his family remained his top priority. Thus, when the Eagles approached him about playing in Japan, the opportunity to head overseas with his wife and children was more appealing than any of his major league offers.
“Of course, it doesn’t sound ideal to take them to Japan. But we just felt that, it’s eight months and this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our daughter, who will get to see a whole other culture for a seven- or eight-month period and get to do something that 99.9 percent of children around the world never get an opportunity to do,” Youkilis reportedly said. “My wife has always wanted [to live abroad with family for a year]. This will be an awesome experience for her. I’m the one who worries more about them than she does about going there. She said they’ll be fine and they’ll enjoy every moment they have over there and come back in eight months and be back in the United States.”
Playing in Japan has allowed some players to revive their careers, and given that Youkilis was an All-Star as recently as 2011, there’s a chance that he could thrive within his new environment. Youkilis also seems to understand that baseball is a constant battle against Father Time (and the injury bug), though, and he’s taking things one step at a time as a result.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to retire after one year. You never know. There might be one year after this. My wife said you might have an awesome time over there and want to come back to the United States and finish in the United States. I’ve realized over the past two years, nothing’s ever etched in stone,” Youkilis told WEEI.com. “But talking to my father and other people, you never want to look back and say you didn’t try things, you didn’t do new things in life. In one way, it’s easy. It’s not easy to play in the major leagues, but it’s easy to live that lifestyle every year. This is an opportunity to do something different. I’m very fortunate because I have the choice to choose playing in the United States or choosing Japan. Some guys might not have the choice. They’re going over there to make money because they’re in Triple-A, going up and down.
“I’ve had a great career, made good money and this is just a choice — it’s a little outside the box probably for what some people think, but the older I get, the more I realize there are a lot of experiences in life that we miss out on. This could be one of the best experiences. It could be something different, something unique and fun, and who knows what happens? You’ve got to live life to the fullest because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Youkilis’ major league resume — which might very well be a finished product — includes three All-Star selections, a Gold Glove, two top-six MVP finishes, two World Series titles and countless memories. Many of those memories came in Boston, where he spent parts of nine seasons before being traded to the White Sox in 2012. Youkilis insists that he has no regrets, either about the past or about the journey he’s about to embark on in the Land of the Rising Sun.
“My life has changed,” Youkilis reportedly said. “When you have children, you really understand, you come to grips and come to understand that baseball comes and goes, but your family is there and the experiences you have within your family will outweigh all the games you played in baseball, all the awards, all the World Series you win. All that is just stuff. The reality is when you come home and the kids are sick, or you have to take them to school, pick them up, that’s what I cherish. I think I’ve grown up and matured in that way of realizing that giving my family the best life possible is all that matters.”
The Youkilis story isn’t over. It’s simply advancing to the next scene.