BOSTON — Kevin Youkilis recalled the happy moments and avoided commenting on his time playing under Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine in his return to Fenway Park on Monday.
Boston traded Youkilis on June 24, sending the three-time All-Star and cash to Chicago for utility player Brent Lillibridge and a minor league pitcher.
“It’s exciting to come back to a ballpark I’ve known as home for a long time,” he said. “It’s exciting to face some of my teammates that I’ve only faced in live BP.”
Youkilis’ return to Fenway coincided with the return of Boston’s Carl Crawford to the Red Sox lineup for the first time this season.
Youkilis tripled in his last at-bat with the Red Sox and left the field for pinch runner and longtime friend Nick Punto. The two hugged along the first-base line before Youkilis took off his helmet, waved and blew a kiss to the adoring fans. The trade was announced after that game.
Sitting in an interview room Monday, wearing his black White Sox jersey and gray uniform pants, he smiled before answering what he expected to happen in his first at-bat.
“It’s definitely going to be living a moment before,” he said. “I think my teammates are most excited. I think they’re more excited than I’ll be. People have been really good to me. I’ll probably see a few 20 jerseys out there.”
When he was dressing by his corner locker in the visiting clubhouse about a half hour before a scheduled interview session in a room above Boston’s clubhouse, a TV screen showed the empty interview room and the words “Kevin Youkilis upcoming interview.” Teammates Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski joked that they should all go to the room to support him.
The 33-year-old Youkilis is wearing the same No. 20 he had with Boston. He played 7 1/2 seasons with the Red Sox and was part of the 2004 and ’07 championship teams.
“There’s no regrets. I had a lot of fun and won two World Series,” he said. “I came in my rookie year, won one and won one playing every day. Some guys can’t even say they won one. I was very fortunate to win two.”
His playing time in Boston became limited by the emergence of rookie Will Middlebrooks.
But he didn’t want to talk about his relationship with Valentine. In April, the manager questioned Youkilis’ commitment in his weekly television interview then apologized to him a day later.
“I don’t understand why this is a big rift,” he said. “I’m just here to play baseball and things will happen. There’s no Bobby V. vs Kevin Youkilis or vice versa. It’s the Chicago White Sox against the Boston Red Sox and just playing baseball.”
Youkilis was a fan favorite during his time in Boston, often drawing loud chants of “Yoouk” for his hard-nosed play.
Since joining Chicago, Youkilis is hitting .295 with three homers and 15 RBis in 16 games. He recorded five game-winning RBIs in his first 14 games.
“I think what I’m doing now is trying to have fun and win,” he said. “There’s nothing else to worry about.”
Having a charity in his name in the area, he said he’d like to maintain his ties to the city he had called home for his entire big league career.
“This isn’t the last of Boston,” he said. “I hope to do a lot of good things off the field.”
Meanwhile, Crawford is in Boston’s lineup after missing the entire season with left wrist and elbow injuries.
Signed to a $142 million, seven-year contract before last season, the 30-year old Crawford had a disappointing 2011. He hit a career-worst .255 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs, and finished with just 18 stolen bases after swiping 47 in 2010 and 60 the year before that.
“Just happy to be back out there,” he said before the Red Sox took the field for batting practice. “I’m excited about playing. It’s been a while. I’m just happy that I can play a big league game. I’m a little nervous.”
Crawford had wrist surgery in January and was hoping to be ready for opening day, but suffered a few setbacks and didn’t begin his first rehab assignment until late June.
He’s scheduled to play left and bat second Monday night against the White Sox,.
Crawford was especially happy to be batting near the top of the order, in a spot vacated with Dustin Pedroia on the 15-day disabled list. Last season, Crawford mostly hit in the lower-third of the order.
“I’m definitely excited about it,” he said. “No secret I like hitting at the top.”
And he figures he can run more hitting up high.
“Up there I can run as much as I want,” he said. “Last year I was limited.”
In 2011, Crawford started third in the lineup but was moved down to primarily seventh after he got off to a poor start, batting just .204 with one homer and six RBIs in April. Now he feels he’s got something to prove because of his struggles.
“I’m a big part of a puzzle that’s supposed to win a championship,” he said.