Tuesday, June 26, 2012
[In honor of Kevin Youkilis departing the Red Sox - originally published 2008.]
On the third day of my vacation, I had breakfast with Kevin Youkilis. Well, kind of. I’ll tell you all about it, but first a couple of explanations may be needed.
Those of you in England, Australia, and other less-civilized outposts of the world, need to know who Kevin Youkilis is. He is a player with the Boston Red Sox. Where I live - and this is what makes us great, despite our predilection for overspending and occasionally invading other countries - baseball is played. The Red Sox are the reigning World Champions of baseball, and Kevin Youkilis is their clean-up hitter.
(I could explain what a clean-up hitter is, but if you don’t know, you probably don’t care. I could also explain how a team that never plays anyone from outside of North America is the World Champion, but I won’t. If you’re a fan, you know this is true. If you’re not, nothing I say will sound convincing. Just rest assured: It’s a fact.)
Another thing you should know is that whenever Kevin Youkilis comes up to bat, the Red Sox fans all yell out his nickname, extending the "oo" sound of it, thusly: Yooooook! It sounds like booing to the uninitiated, but it is actually a love call.
The final thing I need to explain is how I came to be in the same place as Kevin Youkilis on the third day of my vacation.
MY WIFE and I have this fun thing we do. We’ve been doing it since before we were married.
(I could rephrase the foregoing, so that it doesn’t automatically bring certain dirty thoughts into the heads of some of you, but I won’t. This is a long story and if you’re from England or Australia, you may as well get SOMETHING out of it. Enjoy!)
The thing we do is called "The Breakfast Club." We eat alphabetically.
No, we don’t line things up and then consume bacon before eggs and potatoes, then move on to the toast. What we do is go out to breakfast in towns, neighborhoods, and restaurants via an alphabetic scheme. We first went out to eat in Arlington (or it might have been Acton) and then moved on to Bedford, Chelsea, Dorchester, Everett, and so on. We did the same with the names of restaurants – perhaps it was Al’s, then Bickford’s, then Charlie’s – and the same with neighborhoods.
(I hope that explains it. I could elucidate further, but I’m afraid it might prove as inadequate as the baseball explanations previously given.)
The important thing to know is WHY we do this. Aside from the fact that we both really like breakfast foods, we figured it would be a way to get us exploring new places and things. I mean, if we didn’t need to eat in a neighborhood beginning with "Y", there would have been little reason for us to take the New York subway out to York Street in Brooklyn and eat in a restaurant entirely populated by what looked like crack dealers. Nor would we have traveled to the Suffolk Downs Diner, and gotten to sample fried mashed potatoes, if we weren’t looking for an establishment whose name began with "S". It has been a learning experience.
We started this thing with great gusto some 17 years ago. Since it only takes 78 breakfasts to complete all three categories, you can see that we became somewhat bogged down as things went along. The problem was the letter "X." There are only so many breakfast places in the world whose name begins with "X," not to mention towns and neighborhoods. After much searching of maps and phone directories, we finally got past the X portion of the categories during this past year. We were now looking for a restaurant whose name began with "Y."
MY WIFE and I looked in the phone book and found a place.
(I’m not going to tell you the name of it, by the way. Yoooooook seems to have found a nice quiet place where he can take his family and not be bothered too much, so I’m not going to screw that up for him.)
We drove there, went inside, and took a seat in a booth. We ordered some food and engaged in the sort of small talk a husband and WIFE do. I had my back to the door, by the way.
I heard the door open, and then some people sat down in the booth behind me. They had a child. My first thought was that I hope the kid doesn’t squirm around or kick, since I’d feel it through the back of my seat, which abutted his, and I really hate when that happens.
MY WIFE said something. I didn’t hear all of it, really. I was busy thinking about my forthcoming bacon and eggs. She said, "Don’t turn around, but..." and I didn’t catch the rest of it. For some reason, I thought it had something to do with the kid. I didn’t really care if I saw the kid, so it just sort of slipped past me as I dreamed about home fries. Just then, the kid slipped his hand over the back of the booth and inadvertently touched my head. His mother said, "Watch your hand, Michael! We don’t want to bother the people in the next booth!"
Since she cared – which many parents do not (and if she hadn’t, then I would have been pissed) - I sort of half-turned to reassure her that it was no big deal. She said, to Michael, who was perhaps 3 or 4, "What do we say?" and when Michael didn’t answer – being a bit embarrassed – she said, "We say, ‘I’m sorry!’" When Michael, still embarrassed, buried his head into her shoulder, and didn't offer the apology to me, his mother said, "Well, then I’ll say it, anyway." And she did, which was polite and sweet. I again offered my reassurance that it was no big deal, and turned back around to face MY WIFE, once again dreaming of the breakfast food that would be arriving shortly.
MY WIFE said, in a low voice, "So, did you see him?"
"Who? The kid? Yeah, he’s a cutie."
"No, Kevin Youkilis!"
"Kevin Youkilis is sitting behind you!"
"What did you think I was trying to tell you?"
When the family first arrived, MY WIFE wasn't positive it was him, but then a young boy, perhaps 10 or so, had walked up to Yoooooook’s booth and politely asked if he could have a baseball autographed. Youkilis did so, with a smile. That's when MY WIFE knew for sure it was him and tried to let me know. Now I understood why she had suggested I hold up my spoon and use it as a mirror.
(Talking about this incident later, about the boy asking for an autograph, MY WIFE deduced that the kid, who looked to be with his grandpa, must have been hip to the fact that Youkilis might be coming there at some point. Why else would he have a baseball in his pocket, at this time of year, while having breakfast with his grandpa?)
Well, now I wanted to see Yooooook, but I wasn’t about to turn around and gawk. Luckily enough, Michael had left his seat to look around the small restaurant. It was obvious, from the way they talked and acted, that the counter people knew the family, and liked Michael a lot. He was welcome to roam. Yoooooook, however, wanted Michael to sit down for breakfast, so he got up and went to fetch him, walking by us while doing so.
I don’t know what your impression of Kevin Youkilis might be (if you have one, that is) but sitting at home and seeing him at-bat and whatnot, MY WIFE and I have always thought he looked a bit like Bluto from the Popeye cartoons. Not an ogre or anything, but not tremendously friendly. He looks much nicer in person. The dark beard looks threatening when standing out in relief from his white home uniform, but Yooooook was dressed in a dark t-shirt and denims, so the contrast wasn’t as startling. He is also a bit shorter than I imagined, not much taller than my 5’10". He guided Michael back to the booth gently.
Our food arrived and we dug in. The kid and his grandpa had left. There had been a few old-timers at the counter when we arrived, but they were now gone, too. We were the only other folks in the place aside from Youkilis, his family, and the wait staff (who I believe were also the owners.)
While we ate, we were treated to some insights into Yoooooook’s manner off of the field, via snippets of conversation and the way he interacted with his fiance and Michael. He seems like a nice normal guy. The most endearing thing about this chance encounter with baseball royalty was seeing Yoooooook playfully trying to get Michael to eat his pancakes. I’ll try to explain in a way that casts the conversation in as nice a light as it deserves.
Youkilis said, to the waitress, "So, is that bird still in here, the one from last week?"
I looked up to see if there was actually a bird I hadn’t noticed. MY WIFE rolled her eyes.
We then heard a whistle, sounding vaguely like a bird. It was Youkilis. He said something like, "Oops! There’s the bird! He’s going to eat your pancakes, Michael!"
Michael looked around for the bird. No doubt, Yoooooook took a fork and stole a bit of Michael's pancakes at that point, which is something my father would have done, bless him. Yoooooook then said something to the effect of "Oops! The bird got some of your pancakes! You’d better start eating before he gets more of them!"
It was sweet. The act was repeated, with minor variations, when Michael once again got up to roam about, this time to spin the seats at the counter. We were all smiling at that point, probably because it’s a universal desire to spin the seats at a counter, but only a young kid would act upon that desire, so we were living vicariously through Michael.
One other small bit of talk was memorable. I found out which candidate Kevin Youkilis is voting for in the upcoming presidential election. As with the name of the restaurant, I won’t divulge that information. This is because Youkilis said, to his fiance, after a very brief divergence into political conversation, "Come on, you know I don’t want to discuss politics outside of the house." It immediately became clear to me that, as a public figure, he had no desire to have his intentions become known, as then he might be asked to endorse someone, or be fearful of losing fans who might like another candidate, or something of that nature. His reticence was understandable, so I won’t tell you. But, I know! Feel free to imagine me sticking my tongue out at you and waggling my fingers in my ears.
We finished our meal and got up to leave. I wanted to say "Hi" to him, since I’m a huge Red Sox fan. MY WIFE and I sort of consider him "our" player, too, since we were both watching the game where he hit his first major league home run and got a great kick out of how the players in the dugout studiously ignored him upon his return, only to then all jump up in unison and give him congratulations, a standard "hazing" given a rookie who accomplishes that feat for the first time.
MY WIFE suggested that perhaps he would notice my shirt – I was wearing my Bombers softball jersey – and say something about me being a ballplayer, too. I rather doubted that. I did, however, come up with a decent way to say something, without being too smarmy.
As we walked past their booth, I said, "Hi, Yook!"
He looked up and said, "Hi, how are you?"
I then asked, "Just out of curiosity, what IS the breakfast of champions?"
He smiled and gave a little laugh. I persisted.
"No, seriously, what is it?"
"Sausage, egg, and cheese, on an English muffin."
MY WIFE asked, "Just on game days?"”
Yook’s fiance then offered, with a roll of her eyes, "No, ALL the time."
She sounded as faintly exasperated as MY WIFE does. You see, I order the same thing all the time at the restaurants we go to.
Yook started to protest, but stopped, realizing the futility of doing so. I felt more of a kinship with him than ever before.
I said, "Good luck tonight!", to which he replied, "Thanks!", then we left.
Unfortunately, the Sox lost that night, 9 – 1, and Yook went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. And, as you know by now, they also lost the American League Championship Series - though not without a good fight. I’d think about going back to the same place again for breakfast, but knowing how superstitious ballplayers are, he’d come in, see me sitting there, and turn around and walk out. The owners seem like nice folks, so I wouldn’t want to cost them his business.
Soon, with more better stuff.
[Addendum, 2012: He was a 3B, asked to move to 1B. He did it, and became a gold-glove first baseman, outstanding. They traded for another gold-glover, and moved Yook back to 3B. He did what was asked, both times, in addition to taking a few short stints in the OF. Meanwhile, he put up some good numbers, excellent for a couple of years. Now he slumps, gets injured, and his replacement tears it up, so he's traded.
They never should have taken him off of 1B, IMHO, but business is business, I guess. They had acquired Gonzo, 3B was open... In any case, Yook's head was screwed with by management more than most gold glove all-stars would have been.
Godspeed, Yoooooook. Here's hoping you find a good place in Chicago to get a sausage, egg, and cheese English muffin.]