Kevin Youkilis sat in the White Sox' dugout before his first game with his new team, looking relaxed, sounding confident and flashing a toothy smile through his trademark bushy goatee.
After two World Series titles, a whole lot of hits and walks and some conflict and struggle of late over eight years with Boston, Youkilis spent Monday trying to get acclimated to a new environment and a different group of colleagues.
He seemed at ease, eager to join the first-place White Sox in the wide-open AL Central and leave behind the grind of his now former division. Sentiment will have to wait.
"This off-season too, I think I'll reflect a lot more. Usually when players are retired, you have more time. It just seems like playing baseball, it's never ending all year. You're always doing something," Youkilis said before Chicago began a three-game series at Minnesota. "But it was a great time, and I'll definitely cherish those years."
The gritty Fenway Park favourite was traded Sunday by the Red Sox for utilityman Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart.
"It was not an easy time for me. It was tough for my family, trying to figure out where we're going. But it's a great thing to be in a great city in Chicago," he said, calling Sunday "the most emotional thing" he's experienced in baseball. Youkilis left that game for a pinch runner, a "surreal" feeling heightened by the standing ovation he received from the crowd when he came back out of the dugout for his last curtain call there.
A corner infielder on Boston's championship teams in 2004 and 2007, the 33-year-old Youkilis brought a .289 career batting average and a .391 on-base percentage into this season. He started slowly, though, and never really recovered. Playing time dwindled. He spent much of May on the disabled list due to tightness in his lower back. Then first-year Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine questioned Youkilis's commitment to the game during a television interview. Valentine apologized to him a day later.
"I don't really want to comment on that," Youkilis said. "We're past that here, and that's that. We're just leaving it behind."
Boston has been in last place in the stacked AL East for most of the season, too, recently moving into fourth.
"It'll be kind of weird not to play those teams, but it's also good," Youkilis said. "Because when you play those teams 19 times a year, it kind of gets a little old, so it'll be fun to play here and play teams I never really got the chance to play that much."
The White Sox were happy to have him. Reserve outfielder Jordan Danks gave up No. 20, which Youkilis wore for the Red Sox.
"That's fine," Danks said smiling, "as long as I've still got a number."
Designated hitter Adam Dunn even had Youkilis's old Red Sox uniform on when he went out to play catch before the game.
"Hopefully he put some more good sweat in there, and we'll just have to frame that one day and put a caption with that on there," Youkilis said.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura put Youkilis at third base, batting second, for his debut. Third base has been a big hole for Chicago this season, with a woeful .167 batting average to go with one home run and 18 RBIs accumulated at that position by everyone who's played there. Ventura praised team owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Kenny Williams for making the move to upgrade the lineup.
"They see the need. They understand it. Then you go and try and get the best guy you can get, and he's the best guy we can get," Ventura said.
Youkilis batted just .233 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 146 at-bats for the Red Sox in 2012.
"Hopefully I can come to the White Sox and just bring it day in and day out, play the game hard, play the game the right way," he said. "I can't guarantee anything with stats and all that, but I know one thing – that I'll come out here every day and play the game right and give it my all. Hopefully that's enough."