03/29/2020 9:23 AM
JacobyEllsbury - SportsPix Photo
Article written by Rob Duca for our 2011 Cape League Magazine
Jacoby Ellsbury’s rise to the major leagues was meteoric, which seemed about right for the lightning-fast outfielder. One year after playing for the Falmouth Commodores, he was selected 23rd overall by the Boston Red Sox in the 2005 draft. Two years after that, he was in left field in the World Series, hitting .306 in 11 postseason games and helping the Red Sox win their second championship in four seasons. And just two years later, he was the team’s starting center fielder and setting a franchise record with 70 stolen bases.
Ironically, Ellsbury’s precipitous fall in 2010 was equally dramatic. He played only 18 games due to fractured ribs suffered in a collision with Adrian Beltre on April 11 in Kansas City. Be there was so much more to the story. Controversy swirled over the severity of the injury, while the media, fans and even teammates questioned his toughness and Ellsbury insisted he had been misdiagnosed. Twice he returned to the lineup, for three games in May and nine in August, before another collision in Texas ended his season for good. Ellsbury felt a measure of redemption when the fractured ribs were finally detected after the initial diagnosis.
The fleet-footed 27-year-old is back with the Red Sox in 2011, hoping to erase the memory of last season. He got off to a good start, compiling an 18-game hitting streak while batting .295 with four home runs, 11 doubles and 17 RBIs through mid-May.
He’s reluctant to discuss last season. Asked about a low point during a recent interview at his locker in the Fenway Park clubhouse, his smile disappeared and he said, “I’ve kind of put that behind me and just focused on 2011.”
But he told reporters at the end of last season, “You can look at it like it’s a nightmare, or you can look at it like it’ll make you stronger. You can learn from it. I see it from both sides now. You can’t control it, so you might as well take a positive out of it. Going through it, it’s definitely not fun. It’s not fun watching, knowing you could have an impact on the game. It’s nice to know that once I let it heal it shouldn’t be an issues.”
Ellsbury said he feels “great physically” this season and hasn't changed his approach because of 2010.
“The way I play, and the way I prepare is the same,” he said. “As far as the day-to-day stuff goes, I’m just trying to be as consistent as possible. I have goals for the season, things I can control. If you’re doing the right things and preparing every day, the numbers will fall into place.”
Those who saw him in Falmouth seven years ago are not surprised by his success.
“He was extremely athletic,” remembers Falmouth field manager Jeff Trundy. “He was a quiet kid that was very focused, competitive and intense about his daily routine in games and in practice. He was pretty self-motivated.”
Of course, Ellsbury’s dazzling speed was immediately on display. “His speed was off-the-charts,” Trundy said. “He combined that with the intensity of always looking to take the extra base. He was an exciting kid to watch.”
Ellsbury arrived on Cape Cod following a stint playing summer ball in the Alaskan League, which also uses wooden bats. “I’d heard a lot about the league from my coaches and I’d never been to the East Coast before,” said Ellsbury, who played his college ball at Oregon State. “I knew it was a place where there were lots of scouts and great players from around the country, so it was exciting to kind of see where I stacked up.”
His excitement was tempered by the fact that he was cut from Team USA the morning before flying to the Cape. Falmouth general manager Bob Clark picked up Ellsbury at the airport and remembers finding a depressed young man. “He looked like he just lost his best friend,” Clark said. “I told him, ‘Look son, this is the best thing that ever happened to you. First, scouts prefer to have you here because they can track you every night. Second, you’ll be facing better competition so you’ll be challenged. Third, you have the chance to go to Fenway Park.’
“I’ve used that story numerous times over the years with players who get cut from Team USA. I call it the ‘Jacoby Ellsbury story.’”
Ellsbury started slowly that summer before taking off, finishing with a .245 average, one home run, three triples, seven RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 28 games. “I think the Team USA thing bothered him for a while, but as the season progressed he played better and better. By the end of the summer you could see he had a future,” Trundy said.
Looking back, Ellsbury credits the quality of the nightly competition for his improvement. “In the Cape League every starter is of No.1 caliber,” he said. “Just the entire experience makes you a better ballplayer. And playing every day is a lot like pro ball.”
Ellsbury has never lacked confidence. The native of Madras, Oregon was a star in every sport he tried, able to dunk a basketball from a flat-footed stance beneath the hoop despite standing only 6-1. But it was his pure speed that drew the attention of scouts. When Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein came to Seattle to watch Oregon State play against the University of Washington, he was treated to a taste of Ellsbury’s speed. With another former Cape Leaguer, Tim Lincecum (Harwich, 2005), on the mound, Ellsbury took off on a pitch and scored from first base on a single. Before turning professional, he hit .400 with 26 stolen bases and was Co-Player of the Year in the Pac-10 as a junior.
Then again, what would you expect from someone who maintained to his Cape League teammates in 2004 that he once ran down a deer in the backyard of his Oregon home? His Falmouth teammates shook their heads in disbelief at hearing that tale, but Ellsbury insisted he was serious.
“Naturally, everyone had fun with that the rest of the season,” Trundy said. “Every time anyone saw an animal they’d ask Jacoby if he could run it down.”
Ellsbury looks back with fondness on his Cape League experience. His summer job was working the youth clinics and maintaining the Falmouth field, and he remains in touch with his host family, Steve and Deb Brocklebank. “It was a good time in my life,” he says.
As for his advice to current Cape Leaguers, he says, “Just go out, relax and play baseball. You can’t be tense in this game. Let your abilities take over.”