By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — When White Sox manager Robin Ventura told Brent Lillibridge that he was taking him out of last Sunday’s game in the 10th inning, Lillibridge couldn’t believe it.
Lillibridge had just entered the game as a pinch runner in the ninth, and in what has already been a disappointing season, Lillibridge was baffled as to why his manager was denying him even this rare plate appearance.
“Ventura called me over and was like, ‘I’ve got to take you out,’” Lillibridge said. “At first I was like, ‘Why in the world? Pinch hitting for me already? Geez, not again.’”
It was understandable why Lillibridge might have been a bit upset at that moment. After having what he hoped was a breakout season in 2011, he found himself mostly stuck on Chicago’s bench for the first three months of this season.
However, this time Ventura wasn’t pulling Lillibridge because he didn’t want to let the Jackson High grad hit. Rather, the White Sox pulled him because they just had made a trade with Boston sending Lillibridge and pitcher Zach Stewart to the Red Sox for Kevin Youkilis.
The trade surprised Lillibridge, but despite the fact that he, wife Stephanie and son Cohen had made Chicago their in-season home — they live in Bothell in the offseason — he also was excited for a new opportunity. It wasn’t that Lillibridge had any issues with the White Sox organization, it was simply that he wasn’t playing nearly as much as he would have liked. And while there are no guarantees that he will play more in Boston — Lillibridge has started once in five games since joining the Red Sox — he hopes a change in scenery will provide a boost to his career.
“A midseason trade, you never expect that,” Lillibridge said in the visitor’s clubhouse at Safeco Field. “It was great though, hopefully it works out really well for both teams, and for me personally.
“I loved Chicago, I loved the city, I loved playing for that organization, but it just wasn’t working out for me personally. … The matchups how it worked out, we had a lot of right-handers, which meant I wasn’t going to play. It wasn’t the same as last year.”
Indeed, it has been a different year for Lillibridge.
In 2011, he played frequently and established career highs in nearly every offensive category, including 13 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a very respectable .505 slugging percentage.
This season, however, Lillibridge has rarely gotten onto the field except as a late-game defensive replacement or a pinch runner, and had just 70 plate appearances with Chicago 72 games into the season. The 28-year-old hoped 2011 would be a springboard season, but instead he saw his role on the team drastically cut back this year.
“It’s a gut check a little bit,” Lillibridge said. “It’s hard. It’s hard because you want to be in there, you want to play. You want to set yourself up to show that, ‘Hey, this guy can play.’ It just wasn’t working out that way, it wasn’t the way things were going with the White Sox organization. They had an opportunity to get what they needed and give me an opportunity somewhere else, and I appreciate that. I have nothing but good things to say about the White Sox organization.”
What Lillibridge’s role will be in Boston remains to be seen. He saw his most playing time in the outfield with Chicago, but has played nearly every position during his career. Catcher and pitcher are the only two he hasn’t played in the major leagues.
As has been the case his entire career, he hopes his versatility will help get him onto the field with the Red Sox. Prior to Thursday night’s game, Lillibridge was taking ground balls at third base, and the Red Sox are hopeful that they have a player they can use in the infield and outfield.
“If he could play both, it would be really a plus,” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine told reporters in Boston after the trade. “I’ve been told that he can, and he says that he’s most comfortable in center field. We’ve seen where he’s played in the past. We’ll figure it out.”
Lillibridge said he doesn’t care where he plays in Boston as long as he’s playing more often than he was in Chicago.
While Lillibridge is in Seattle for the second time this season, his wife is in Chicago packing up their place, preparing for another move. This far into a journeyman career, he knows stability is a luxury afforded to very few in his line of work.
“It was weird, (the trade) was out of nowhere, but it’s amazing what 24 hours can do for your life,” Lillibridge said. “It’s just part of the lifestyle, nothing is too comfortable, ever will be comfortable. … I’m just excited to have a job and be in a great place.”
Above all, it’s a fresh start, Lillibridge stressed, and that’s a step in the right direction.
“I’m still taking it in, still trying to get everyone’s name right, but I’m just excited to see where it goes. You never know how long you’ll be here, but it’s a great city, a great fan base, I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to start new somewhere else and hopefully play well for them.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.