A couple of weeks into Jacoby Ellsbury’s first season with the Yankees, my brother, a Yankees fan, said to me, “That Jacoby Ellsbury is awesome.”
Of course, I already knew that. I obsessed over Ellsbury since they day the Red Sox drafted him in 2005. I read every word written about him from that day until he made his major league debut.
Like every other fanatical Red Sox fan, I watched or listened to every game as he helped the Red Sox win World Series titles in 2007 and 2013.
“Yeah, well I hope Jacoby Ellsbury …”
For karma’s sake, I won’t repeat the nasty thing I said to my brother that day. For one thing, I didn’t mean it. I was just mad. I don’t wish any ill will toward Ellsbury.
I was just really hurt to see Ellsbury sign with the Yankees, and pointing out his great start in the Bronx was like pouring salt into a fresh wound. It was like saying, “Wow, your ex-girlfriend is really hot. Thanks for letting her breakup with you.”
While the injuries that held him out of most of the 2010 and 2012 seasons took some of the shine off the kid who stole our hearts in 2007, Ellsbury was still one of my favorite players to watch. Plus, he really appeared to be playing through injuries to help deliver in the magical 2013 postseason run.
Then, a little more than a month after the Duck Boat parade, Ellsbury signed with the Yankees and broke my heart. Since the Red Sox basically offered him nothing, assuming Jackie Bradley Jr. was ready to take his place, it was hard to blame Ellsbury for taking $21 million per season for seven years to go to New York. But it still stung. Badly.
Losing a free agent player to the Yankees, like Ellsbury, Andrew Miller and Johnny Damon, hurts worse than losing them to other teams, like with Jon Lester and Mo Vaughn. (And yes, I realize the Red Sox actually traded Miller and Lester before trying to resign them.)
Even losing Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn wasn’t as bad as it could have been had they ended up in Yankee pinstripes.
Remember how depressing it was when Damon led the Yankees to a five-game sweep of the Red Sox in Fenway Park in August 2006? It wouldn’t have been as bad if he was playing for Seattle.
It was actually the emergence of Ellsbury the next year that finally took the sting out of Damon bolting to New York. While Damon was starting to show signs of age, the youthful Ellsbury, who once scored from second base on a wild pitch in 2007, had the world by the tail.
However, thanks to the rash of injuries like the 2010 broken ribs that several teammates questioned, Ellsbury turned out to be kind of a tease the rest of his Red Sox career. He had the great season in 2011 when it seemed like the rest of the team quit, and there is no way the Sox win in 2013 without Ellsbury. But he never became the superstar that we thought we had in 2007.
In 2014 it looked like he was finally that player in New York, and it hurt.
Last year the Yankees got to know the other side of Ellsbury — the one we knew all too well — when injuries held him to 111 games. When he was there, Ellsbury wasn’t as effective, either. He hit just .257 in 2015.
Meanwhile in Fenway, a kid named Markus Lynn “Mookie” Betts arrived promising to be all we hoped Ellsbury would be and more. He has been as fun to watch as his name is to say.
Go ahead and say it. Mookie Betts. See what I mean?
The youngster was an immediate hit when he appeared in 52 games for the dreadful 2014 Red Sox. Last season he hit .291 with 18 home runs while playing highlight-reel defense every night.
Betts is just 23 years old, and in 71 games in Class A in 2012 he didn’t hit a single home run. That he improved so drastically on his power numbers while ripping through the minors and majors tells us that he is only going to keep getting better. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Betts was a second baseman.
On Opening Day, Betts gave Red Sox fans reason to be excited for 2016 and beyond. Now a right fielder, Betts hit an electrifying home run through the frigid air of Cleveland. Then he made a spectacular catch to show that his glove is, indeed, a place where triples go to die.
Teammates, opponents, announcers, analysts and writers all see it. Betts has the world by the tail, and Red Sox Nation couldn’t be happier.
My brother, meanwhile, wasn’t doing any bragging about Ellsbury’s Opening Day 0 for 4 in the Bronx.