By Corey Gottlieb / MLB.comTo wear a Boston Red Sox uniform is to exist as one of two things: a ballplayer, typically, or a dirt dog, occasionally.
Ballplayers are a standard sort, an everyday breed defined not so much by talent as by an outsider's ability -- or inability -- to envision them playing for any other team.
Dirt dogs, then, are those players who fit so seamlessly into the blue-collar Boston baseball mold that they would seemingly cease to exist if dealt to another organization. It is a quality built of intangible scrappiness, of dirt-stained jerseys and home-plate collisions and "Cowboy Up" rowdiness.
Kevin Youkilis is a dirt dog. He just, well, has it, a certain fire that goes beyond his perpetual scowl and taps into to the core of his dogged approach to the game. Gritty and unapologetically aggressive, he is the club's silent beat-keeper, his steadiness the metronome by which Boston's pace is set.
"He's very popular because of the way he goes about his business," Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy has said. "He plays hard all the time. Every at-bat to him is like the last at-bat of his career."
If Youkilis appears to dissect each contest into a series of do-or-die moments, it is perhaps because there is a mechanism for survival that runs deep through his bloodline.
The star slugger's great-great-great-grandfather -- born with the family name Weiner -- eluded forced military enlistment and potential anti-Semitic discrimination from the Cossacks in 19th-century Romania by seeking solace in Greece. A few years later, he returned to his homeland, having adopted the Greek surname Youkilis in an attempt to avoid persecution.
Nearly a century later, Kevin's great uncle Paul came to America and brought with him a similar resilience to adversity. In hopes of providing his 10 siblings with the money to emigrate, Paul ran rum between the U.S. and Canada, gradually amassing the funds to settle his entire family in Cincinnati.
It was there, in Cincinnati, that Kevin's own improbable journey began some 60 years after. Despite his contributions to a title-winning Sycamore High School team, the stocky slugger was dubbed "unathletic" by scouts and recruited solely by two local colleges -- the University of Cincinnati and Butler University. Youkilis chose CU, his father's alma mater, after receiving a somewhat questionable endorsement from the Bearcats' head coach:
"I looked at him and said, Well, we need somebody,'" said Bryan Cleary. "I'd love to tell you I saw something no one else did, but he was just better than what we had."
Cleary would soon learn that Youkilis was also better than anyone the program had retained since Sandy Koufax toed the rubber there in the early 1950s. The up-and-coming infielder racked up school records in homers, walks, slugging and on-base percentage, blasting his way onto big league radars. True to the men who'd come before him, Youk made his case through consistent action.
Since being drafted by the Red Sox in 2001, the versatile star has done much of the same in answering any remaining questions about his abilities as a player.
What's more, he has erased any seed of doubt about who he is as a person: Hard-nosed and perpetually determined, Kevin Youkilis is the latest in a long line of dirt-dog heroes.
Corey Gottlieb is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.