BOSTON — Kevin Youkilis had several options after his contract with the New York Yankees expired at the end of last season.
He could stay around Major League Baseball in some capacity, traveling to the same old cities and staying in the same old hotels. Or he could take his family abroad, learn a new culture and discover a new brand of baseball in Japan.
For Youkilis, the decision was easy.
“You do the same stuff all the time,” Youkilis said. “You go to the same ballparks, all that. I just thought, for my family, it’d be a new experience. My daughter went to an international school and got to learn a little Japanese. It was more for the experience, to go over and do something different. Now, I can say I went over there and tried it. Unfortunately, my foot didn’t hold up.”
Youkilis signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball in March. He was stateside Wednesday as the Red Sox celebrated the 10th anniversary of their World Series championship of 2004, when Youkilis was a rookie. But he is also back in the U.S. due to plantar fasciitis that flared up and interrupted his season.
Although there are subtle differences in the way the game is played, Youkilis said, with more small-ball and offspeed pitches, the biggest difference is in the stands.
“It’s definitely a cool atmosphere of baseball,” Youkilis said. “Those fans get really into it. They’re amazing. Not to say that there are not amazing fans here, but these people cheer until the ninth inning. They don’t leave the game, and in the outfield, it’s pretty special.”
Youkilis was batting .215 with one home run and 11 RBI in 21 games in Japan and said he holds out hope of finishing the season back with the Eagles once he completes shockwave therapy on his foot. He has $1 million in incentives included in his contract, although those incentives might be unreachable given the time he is likely to miss.
Photo via Twitter/@JoeGiza