All eyes focused on Ellsbury
Young outfielder enters camp with high expectations
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After 116 Major League at-bats -- not to mention a starring role in the World Series -- Jacoby Ellsbury all of a sudden found himself in high demand this offseason. The small-town kid from Madras, Ore., had officially reached the big-time.
"For the first time in my life, I had to have kind of a calendar to know where I'm at and I had different activities to be at," said Ellsbury.
Then, there was that memorable November day in Madras when he was treated like royalty.
"I had a parade when I got back to Madras, which was pretty neat. Every kid dreams of winning a World Series as a baseball player, but you never dream of having your own parade," Ellsbury said. "That's pretty special."
Of course, there were two ways Ellsbury could have handled his sudden fame. The first would have been to let it blow up his ego and allow him to just coast through the winter, thinking his whole career was already plotted out for him. The second was to keep working, working and working.
Anyone who has spent any time with Ellsbury or knows anything about him probably knows which path he took.
"Basically six days a week I was in some sort of workouts or baseball-related activities. I took a short vacation -- four days -- and then was going back at it," said Ellsbury. "Basically, my entire game I worked on, my speed, my defense, my strength. Pretty much every aspect of the game you could look at, I tried to touch on and just continue to improve in every area."
As Ellsbury knows, there is a job to be won. It is the classic case of the young and exciting up-and-comer against the established incumbent. Ellsbury vs. Coco Crisp should be one of the lead storylines of Spring Training for the Red Sox.
"I think it's good for both of us," Ellsbury said. "It pushed me that much harder in the offseason; I'm sure it did Coco as well. You know, we have a good relationship and we'll make the best of the situation."
The soft-spoken Ellsbury has no brash predictions about who will be standing in center field for the Red Sox in Tokyo on March 25, when the 2008 season officially begins.
"That's their decision to make," Ellsbury said. "But I went into the offseason and worked hard to be the center fielder. It's their decision and I'll respect it either way."
In many ways, this is a continuation of the battle that took place last year in the postseason. Manager Terry Francona gave Crisp eight October games to get his bat in gear, but was left with little choice but to switch to Ellsbury, beginning in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
"[Francona] asked me if I was ready to go," Ellsbury said. "I said, 'I'm ready to go.' That was basically the conversation. It was basically that short."
And Ellsbury confirmed it was a lot more than hollow talk. In the World Series -- a four-game sweep -- all he did was hit .438 with four runs and four doubles in 16 at-bats.
The kid who started his 2007 season at Double-A Portland ended it in spectacular fashion.
"It was exciting, a dream come true for any baseball player to play in the World Series and get a callup in September and, you know, get in the playoffs. It was a memorable season," said Ellsbury.
Then, there were the winter trade rumors which had him wondering if he'd be going to the Twins for Johan Santana.
"I wanted to stay with the Red Sox, but at the same time, just with me being busy with working out, I didn't try to think about it too much," Ellsbury said. "I had no control over the situation. I basically just worked out and got ready for next season with whoever the team might be. I'm definitely happy with how things happened."
The 24-year-old Ellsbury will go into the season as an obvious candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, which was won by Boston's Dustin Pedroia in 2007.
Of course, he needs to be the starting center fielder to have any shot at that trophy.
"Whatever level you're at, you're always fighting for your job," said Ellsbury. "When I was in high school, as a freshman I was fighting for that center-field spot, and didn't let it get to me. When I was in college as a freshman, I was trying to fight for that center-field spot. In pro ball, and now, the same thing. These are the best players in the world. You just have to be ready for it."
With Crisp not even in camp yet, Francona isn't about to tip his hand at which way the competition will go.
"Again, it's our job to make things work, and we will," said Francona. "We'll communicate with all the players honestly and move forward. The guy that doesn't start, there may be some disappointment. How we handle that will be very important. And we will handle it. As we always do, we'll figure it out."
As for all the attention he's received so early in his career, Ellsbury isn't fighting it. Instead, he just rolls with it.
"I think, when you play for the Boston Red Sox, you're going to get that," Ellsbury said. "It's been fun. I've been having a good time with it. When it comes down to it, it's performing. Everybody wants you to perform and that's your goal going into the season."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.