TAMPA, Fla. -- Given the chance to anoint his successor as Red Sox center fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury split his ballot right down the middle. Grady Sizemore or Jackie Bradley Jr.? The Sox are on their own.
“I think they're both going to do well,’’ Ellsbury said Tuesday morning to a media cluster inflated by an influx of Boston reporters. “I think they're both going to do great. I trained with Grady this last offseason, so I know Grady a little bit. Obviously, I know Jackie pretty well and he has a bright future. I wish them the best.’’
While Bradley played center and batted leadoff Tuesday for the Sox, the roles occupied by Ellsbury for most of the last six seasons in Boston, Ellsbury did not make an appearance in his new incarnation as a Yankee. He sat out the game with a sore right calf muscle, and is not expected to make the trip to Fort Myers Thursday night for a return engagement between the Sox and Yankees.
So, barring anything untoward happening to him in the next 3½ weeks, Ellsbury will make his first appearance in pinstripes against the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium on April 10, when the Sox are scheduled to open a four-game set against the Bombers.
When someone joked that Ellsbury was deliberately avoiding his old team Tuesday, he said: “Well, we’ll see how many made the trip. But yeah, I still talk to those guys; [I’ll] see who made the trip and probably say hello to them. But I have a feeling there’s not going to be too many of them, though.’’
Ellsbury was correct in that assumption. The only players who traveled here and were present for more than the last year of Ellsbury’s time in Boston were starting pitcher Felix Doubront and first baseman Ryan Lavarnway.
The Yankees struck quickly with Ellsbury, signing him to a seven-year, $153 million deal five weeks after Ellsbury became a free agent following Boston's World Series championship. Sox manager John Farrell said he was not surprised that Ellsbury became a Yankee, but was surprised the center fielder signed so quickly, not typically the modus operandi of agent Scott Boras.
“It happened pretty quick,’’ Ellsbury said. “We played deep into the winter, played an extra month, and then free agency hits. You start talking to teams, and I was excited when they [the Yankees] made the offer. I saw what they were doing, their history, and it was a chance to win right away and a chance to win a championship.’’
Ellsbury has had a quiet spring to date. He’s batting .174 (4-for-23) with a couple of doubles and a home run, and has not stolen a base, which was typical of his approach last spring, which he followed by stealing 52 bases in 56 attempts, the third time he led the American League in stolen bases.
“I think it was a very easy transition,’’ said Ellsbury, who joins Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon among recent high-profile Sox players to become Yankees. “Right when I signed, a few of the [Yankees] called me to congratulate me and let me know I was welcome here.
“The guys have been great, welcomed me with open arms. The coaches have been great. The main thing is just getting familiar with all the coaches, all those little things, players, all those names. The first spring training things.’’
As for leaving the Sox? That doesn’t sound like it was terribly difficult, either.
“I've always said, I enjoyed playing there,’’ said Ellsbury, who was selected by the Sox in the first round of the 2005 draft (23rd overall), then burst onto the big league scene at the end of the 2007 season, playing a starring role in the ’07 postseason.
“I have a lot of memories; I spent nine years in the organization. That's roughly a third of my life with one team. Definitely a lot of great memories, a lot of friends over there, and I'll still continue to have those relationships with guys down the road.’’
Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com contributed to this report.