On April 11, Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis was batting an uncharacteristic .167. He appeared, at times, to be off balance, as sliders were simply killing him and fastballs were few and far between. Even when he made good contact, the ball always found an opponent's glove.
Through it all, Youkilis, in a testament to how refined a performer he is, still found a way to lead the major leagues in one of the more important offensive categories. On that day, as Boston's cleanup hitter went 1-for-3 in a 16-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, he drew his 13th walk in just 43 plate appearances, an alarming rate even for a guy accustomed to taking ball four.
"If I can get that one pitch, I've got to be ready to hit it," Youkilis told Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal at the time. "That's the key for me. But I also can't give in, and you can't always hit that pitch. If we could, we'd all hit .400. You've got to be smart about it, too, and not get out of control. I've got to keep doing what I'm doing, and it'll eventually come … If I just keep having good at-bats, it'll start flowing."
If there was a scenario that speaks to the mission of the Red Sox from an offensive standpoint, it is this. Under the current regime, Boston has been among the leaders in the effort to work opposing pitchers, draw walks and maintain that grinding mindset, even if the hits come at a frustratingly slow pace.
Youkilis has been among the better examples of this approach. While many scouts thought he didn't have the frame to make it, he still made a name for himself in the minor leagues by finding a way to get on with regularity. His 71-game streak reaching base in 2003 ranks among the longest in the history of the game, at any level.
And since reaching the major leagues in 2004 and sticking for good in 2006, Youkilis has made a career of finding success deep in counts.
It goes back to those days as an underrated prospect.
"I've always understood [the importance of taking a walk] from a young age," Youkilis said. "You've got to understand that you're trying to score runs and it's not always about you getting a hit all the time, it's about you getting on base, anyhow, anyway."
The importance of "taking a walk" is one that transcends baseball. The actual act of putting one foot in front of the other and repeating it over and over is, like Youkilis was in the minors, an underrated one. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center can get you started through its walking club, which offers resources, educational tools and ways to interact with others through the act of walking, all aimed at providing better health.
"Walking at a moderate pace for up to three hours a week or 30 minutes a day — can cut the risk of heart disease in women as much as 40 percent, a 1999 Harvard study showed," says Dr. Loryn Feinberg of the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess. "The benefits to men are also comparable. This favorable effect is similar to what would be obtained from aerobics, jogging or other types of vigorous exercise."
Dr. Feinberg also says walking can reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol and the body’s ability to handle excess blood glucose (sugar), and help maintain weight.
"It's a convenient form of exercise that has tremendous benefits for the body and mind," she adds.
For a fine-tuned athlete like Youkilis, strolling 90 feet to first base means little in terms of his physical development. However, he knows it can mean plenty for the health of the team.
Even if the hits just aren't coming.
Tim Wakefield makes an important pitch fort he Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Walking Club as seen in the video below.