FORT MYERS, Fla. — You see them perform God-like acts on the field. You’re among millions of disciplines cheering them on. And you’re aware of the ungodly amount of money they make. Sometimes, it’s hard to relate to the modern-day athlete, no matter how closely you follow their Twitter accounts or how many cell-phone pictures you snap.
But, remember, they are just normal people like us.
I always knew it, but the longer I cover Major League Baseball and the more I’m around these incredible athletes, the more of an understanding I have for that (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). Some are great guys, some can be jerks, and most are unbelievably great at what they do.
Which brings me to this: I was among a group of reporters talking to Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis (pictured, 20) before Monday workouts, and he got into the subject of spending the offseason in Boston — home to some of the most passionate sports fans in the country. Youkilis, from Cincinnati, pointed out, “We don’t play the game for the fame.”
But Youk — a gritty, hardnosed guy who seems to be as simple and laid back as one with a $41 million contract can be — basically couldn’t go anywhere in Boston during the winter without being stopped — bothered, sometimes — by fans.
“I’m trying to come to terms with it,” Youkilis said.
“I’m not really into the fame and walking down the street and people recognize me and know who I am. It’s a part of it, though. You’re a ballplayer in Boston — everybody knows who you are, it doesn’t
matter what sport you play, because it’s a huge sportstown. For me, playing here is understanding it and trying to come to terms with all that. Sometimes, it could be difficult.”
Youkilis taked about how a lot of people are nice and just want to congratulate him and tell him they appreciate what he does. He also talked about some of the ruder people — how they’ll get upset if he refuses to take a picture with them but just signs an autograph instead, how they’ll interrupt him and demand things when he’s still chewing the food in his mouth, and how some will just flat-out want to cause problems.
A lot of the times, Youk just has to be the bigger man and turn the other cheek, which is not always easy.
“You have to be respectful, but sometimes, people might be disrespectful,” Youkilis said. “There’s been times where I want to lash out, but I’ve held back. Sometimes, it’s easier to just have people do it for you. … But for the most part, you have to know where to go. There’s never anything good that comes with alcohol and young crowds. You stay away from the young crowds and the booze, you’re going to be all right.”
It’s not easy making professional athletes out to be martyrs. Fans often point out how they get paid millions of dollars to play a sport most of us would pay ourselves to play. That’s fair. But while there are some athletes who love the attention — need it, even — there are others — like Youkilis — who are regular guys who love their particular sport and just deal with the fame as something that comes with it.
What if it were you? What if you couldn’t go anywhere with your family without being hounded by autograph seekers or followed by photographers? How long before that sometimes-coveted fame turns stale?
“You don’t see yourself as bigger and better than anybody else,” Youkilis said. “You just want to be a normal person, too, but you’re not.”
One interesting occurrence with the Red Sox is the fact that two classy, well-respected veterans will be losing their starting jobs because of a couple of newcomers.
There’s Jason Varitek (left) giving way to Victor Martinez …
and Adrian Beltre (right) taking the job of Mike Lowell (this picture courtesy of Brita Meng Outzen). …
The Good thing for the Red Sox, though, is the fact that neither Lowell (assumming, of course, he’s not traded) nor Varitek should be clubhouse cancers because of it. That’s rare.