Ellsbury Talks About Beavers, Bosox And 2005
CORVALLIS, Ore. With his stint in the Fall Instructional League season having ended, Jacoby Ellsbury recently returned to Oregon for the winter. The centerfielder spent last spring helping Oregon State to the Pacific-10 baseball championship and a place in the College World Series, was drafted in the first round by the Boston Red Sox, and then played the rest of the summer for their minor league team in Lowell, Mass.
2005 was an eventful year for Ellsbury, who had opted to attend Oregon State rather than signing a pro contract after being drafted out of Madras, Ore., High in 2002.
Ellsbury earned All-America honors and was named the Pac-10 Co-Player of the Year after winning the conference batting title with a .406 mark, six home runs, 48 runs batted in, 26 stolen bases and errorless defense. He set Oregon State’s school records for hits in a career (236), runs in a career (168), hits in a season (99) and total bases in a season (142).
There was that trip through the postseason that reached all the way to the CWS in Omaha, and being the top draft pick of a team that’s not only a cultural phenomenon in New England but was coming off its first World Series title in 86 years. For Lowell, a short-season Class A team in the New York-Penn League, Ellsbury batted .317 with one homer, five triples, three doubles and 23 stolen bases, compiling an on-base percentage of .418.
Ellsbury was in Corvallis this past week and he took a few minutes to talk about his first season in pro baseball and his Oregon State career.
Q: What you did from the end of the College World Series until you reported to Lowell?
ELLSBURY: I took a couple days off. With the College World Series going on, I couldn’t discuss my contract, so with the College World Series over I got that out of the way and then flew right out to Lowell. Lowell was a great place to play because you got a ton of fans, 5,000 of them, they packed it out. It’s right outside of Boston, so you have a ton of Boston fans trickle down to Lowell to see us play.
Q: What was the biggest adjustment in going from college baseball to pro baseball in the space of a few weeks?
ELLSBURY: The biggest thing is playing every day. In college, you might play four times, max, a week; for Lowell, you played every single day. We had one day off and our day off was an eight- or nine-hour bus trip.
Q: Was your adjustment a little easier because you’d played in the Cape Cod League the last two years, both using a wood bat and also being close to Boston and knowing the atmosphere surrounding that franchise?
ELLSBURY: Definitely. Playing in the Cape, playing against top competition, using the wood bat, playing pretty much every day, helped make the transition a lot easier. And the Cape actually invited us to take batting practice, a few guys from each team, at Fenway Park and that was a great experience. It kind of made me hungry to get back to Fenway and the big-league parks. And seeing the atmosphere and going to a few of the games fired me up and made my drive that much more.
Q: So being drafted by Boston was kind of a bonus?
ELLSBURY: Definitely. And I made a lot of friends when I was in the Cape, so they came and watched me play in Lowell, so it was exciting.
Q: Was it an adjustment going from the team-oriented, win-oriented atmosphere of college baseball to the player development-oriented atmosphere of the minor leagues?
ELLSBURY: Boston really emphasizes that they want to build winners. It’s a lot different than college, because college is a lot more team-oriented. In the minors it is a lot more about player development. It is a little bit tough for a lot of the guys you don’t have that "C’mon, Jacoby, we need a hit!" It’s, "Let’s go, let’s do something." It’s a lot less team-oriented, but I think you’ve got to be strong mentally to be successful in minor league baseball.
Q: It sounds like the Red Sox try to strike a balance between the two, though.
ELLSBURY: We were making a run in the playoffs, and everybody in the organization knew that we were doing some good things on the ballfield as a team, and they like to see that. They feel that if you win in the minors, you’re going to be winners in the majors. That’s kind of the mentality, and I like the mentality they have.
Q: When you were sidelined for a week or two with a sore hamstring, how frustrating was it? Even though it’s not that serious, they’ve got a lot at stake in your future and they’re going to be pretty careful with you.
ELLSBURY: It wasn’t that serious an injury. It definitely bothered me, but it probably could have been a couple days and I’d have been back out on the field, but I understand where they’re coming from. They want to make sure it’s 100 percent before I go out there. Playing college baseball, you have to go out there, so there’s just a little bit different approach to it. Who knows? Maybe I would have gone out there three days later and hurt it worse. Things definitely happen for a reason, and maybe I needed two days off or something, I don’t know.
Q: The way you are, you were probably saying, "Hey, I’m not that fragile."
ELLSBURY: That’s the thing. Some of the guys were saying, "C’mon, it’s been a week and you’re still out." I want to get out there, but you know how it is they’re going to take care of your injuries. Especially me, my legs are a big part of my game; they’re not going to take any risks this early in my career hurting it ... mine was minor, so I don’t think it’s going to be anything to slow me down.
Q: What was the highlight of your first pro season?
ELLSBURY: There are probably two that stand out in my mind. My first pro at-bat, I told Jed Lowrie (the former Stanford second baseman who was his teammate in Lowell) that when I get to first base, I’m going to steal on the first pitch, no matter what happens whether the coach gives me the sign or anything, I’m going. So I get on, I walked my first at bat, and the first pitch I stole second. And before that, too, I told Jed that if I get to second, on the first pitch I’m going to third. It ended up that when I stole second, they threw the ball into the outfield and I made it to third. Then two pitches later they threw a passed ball and I scored. So that was pretty funny; I came back into the dugout and they were laughing about that. That was definitely a highlight.
And then my first game in Lowell, I hit my first home run. My heart was pounding to be in front of the hometown fans, and to hit that ... I hit it into a construction area and I still have that ball. One of the fans went in there and got it for me. It was pretty sweet.
Q: Now that your Oregon State career is in the books, what was the favorite highlight from those three years?
ELLSBURY: You have to say the College World Series. Any hit I had my freshman or sophomore year is nothing compared to making it as a team and going to the College World Series and sharing that success with those guys. That’s going to be something I’ll always remember, and a lot of people are going to remember that team from last year. It was a great experience, and even guys in pro ball still talk about it "How was it?" They’re not going to be there, they’re out of college. So it definitely was for me, and I’m sure a lot of guys on the team. And hopefully they can make it again this year.
Q: As a player, do you feel the three years at Oregon State left you more ready for pro baseball than you would have been out of high school?
ELLSBURY: I know I was a lot more prepared for pro ball than I would have been out of high school just mentally, physically. And I was more determined, I guess you’d say. It was something I’d always wanted to do. The three years at Oregon State were awesome. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d gone to pro ball straight out of high school. I’m definitely glad I chose OSU, I’m glad I played three years here, I had a great time and met a lot of great people.
Q: Is there any aspect specifically where you felt you developed as a player or person, being out on your own a bit before going 3,000 miles away and being thrust into that spotlight?
ELLSBURY: I don’t think I ever told anybody this, but my first year in college there would be times I’d be ... not homesick, but I wanted to go home. And being only three hours away, my family or my brothers could come and see me. If I’d gone into pro ball, I’d have been clear across the country or whatever and they wouldn’t have been able to see me. That was another reason I chose Oregon State I love being around my family and they had a chance to see me play.
Q: When you were drafted coming out of high school, what influenced your decision to attend college rather than sign a pro contract?
ELLSBURY: One of the biggest things was I wanted to play in front of my family. The other thing was that I wanted to play in the best conference in the country, and play against the best players in the country. When I played at the (Oregon Class) 3A level, a lot of people said I didn’t play against any good competition, that was why I had some of the numbers I did, stuff like that. For myself, I wanted to go out there and prove I could play in one of the best conferences. And then obviously there were the guys here I played for the Bend Elks (summer league team) and I met a lot of the Oregon State guys and made friends with them and that was another big reason. Then I met the coaching staff and got along with them real well, so it was definitely the perfect fit for me.
Q: Being a part of the Red Sox organization when they’re the defending World Series champions for the first time in 86 years, and playing in the Boston area, and the whole culture surrounding that franchise what’s it like to be part of that during this past season?
ELLSBURY: It was amazing. You go to bat for the first time, and they announce Now batting, the top draft pick of the 2005 defending champion Boston Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury’ to have that label as being part of the organization that was the world champion was amazing. And the fans there, they’re awesome. They trickle down from Boston. They just love their baseball, and it’s part of their culture. They really get into it, and it’s exciting to see. They’ll let you know if you didn’t hustle for a ball, but if you’re playing hard they’ll love you.
Q: As far as the way you play, a lot of comparisons had been drawn between you and Red Sox centerfielder and cult idol Johnny Damon. Was that kind of fun?
ELLSBURY: Yeah, a lot of people thought it was pretty funny, especially the coaching staff and the team. They ran with the Johnny Damon comments. I might have done something on the field that resembled Johnny Damon a little bit, and they’ll be yelling, "Johnny!" I had fun with it, so it was pretty funny.
Q: Has Boston given you any idea what to expect for next year?
ELLSBURY: It depends on how my offseason workouts go. I’m obviously going to work real hard to be at the highest level I can be, and be ready if the situation arises that they need me. In the offseason I just have to work as hard as I can. They did mention that high-Class A ball was the most likely spot I’d go, but you never know especially in the minors where you’re going to be.
Q: Are you going to return to classes at some point and finish your degree?
ELLSBURY: I had Instructional League, and if it wasn’t for that I’d have been able to come back this term and take some classes but it was important for me to go to Instructional League. So probably not this year, but next year I count on taking some classes and getting that done.