The contradiction that is Kevin Youkilis

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Usually when a guy is described as a gritty, intense gamer, you can count on him being (a) universally loved by his teammates; and (b) not that good a player, actually (see, Eckstein, David). Kevin Youkilis, on the other hand, is the rarest of things: a gritty, MVP-quality player who, surprising to me at least, has some teammates who aren’t real fans.

This last bit of info comes in the course of an excellent profile of Youk in the Boston Globe.  We all know he’s an outstanding player who plays hard so I’ll skip the MVP and grit talk and focus on the unexpected bit:

So why, then, is this Everyman not unequivocally embraced and revered by his teammates? Why, when a reporter approaches another key Red Sox player to speak about Youkilis does he respond, “I’d rather refrain”? . . . “At one point some of the veterans came up to me and said, ‘Can you talk to this guy?’ ” manager Terry Francona said.

This isn’t a gossip piece, though, and Globe writer Jackie MacMullan does a great job of explaining the reasons why Youkilis, though seemingly universally respected, often rubs his teammates the wrong way.  To his credit, Youkilis doesn’t back away from any of it, explaining his dustup with Manny Ramirez a few years ago and trying his best to make the reader understand the unique circumstances of a guy who, while not as gifted as your typical superstar, has nonetheless managed to become one.

And that seems to be the nub of the problem, such as it is: Youkilis doesn’t fit neatly into that gifted/hard worker dichotomy with which most of us — and most ballplayers, in all likelihood — are familiar.  They probably tolerate lesser players beating up trash cans more than stars, because the lesser players aren’t expected to lead and set the tone like stars are.  Youk is an uncomfortable mix of the two and thus problems are likely to arise.

I’ll admit that I’m no Sox fan, and I can pretty much take or leave Youk, but this article casts a new enough light on both him and the team that I’ll be watching tonight’s Sox-Angels game with a bit more interest than I might have otherwise.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.