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Ellsbury, Yankees, postseason: a perfect fit

Oh no. Not the Yankees.

As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, and among the army of local Jacoby Ellbury fans, my jaw dropped and my stomach ached a bit when I heard the news last week: Ellsbury was going to New York.

But as time passed, and after trying to fathom $153 million over seven years, it was impossible not to feel anything but happy for the young man and his family.

I had to check out the response to Ellsbury's going to the Yankees from the Boston Globe, which I've clicked on for years for in-depth Red Sox/Ellsbury coverage. I'm glad I did. It helped makes this transition to pinstripes easier.

As one might guess, many ardent Sox fans, and certainly sportswriters, have been bashing the Madras product pretty soundly over the past week for a lack of loyalty, putting him in a Darth Vader outfit for one, to indicate his transition to "the Dark Side" as a Yankee. One said Ellsbury would have signed with North Korea if the money would have been right. That's tough.

I wondered if those reporters would go to a rival newspaper if they were offered about twice the pay, while their current paper refused to even given them market value? Me thinks they would.

I also missed any Boston reporting last week recalling how several teammates ripped Ellsbury during his two injury-riddled seasons, how many Sox fans challenged his toughness with pink Ellsbury shirts.

Fact is, the Sox chose not to commit the money to resign him. That was their call, not Ellsbury's. They'd gotten burned on big contracts in the recent past, and realized they could win without them. But I think they'll find it was much easier to win if their bargain players come as talented as Ellsbury.

The Hall of Fame baseball writer, and Red Sox season ticket holder, Peter Gammons recently wrote a wonderful piece on Ellsbury. In it, he implored Sox fans to give Ells a standing ovation when he returns to Fenway next spring. He noted what the franchise had received from Ellsbury during his six-plus seasons there -- excellent, exciting, winning baseball, two World Series titles -- at a bargain price.

Fact is, Ellsbury is among the best overall outfielders in the game, and has earned this big contract. Obviously, the Yankees agree, viewing Ells like Gammons and many other baseball experts, looking past some of the just-as-true facts and statistics.

Antagonists question that Ellsbury isn't worth the third-highest contract ever for an outfielder, that he's only been an all-star once in his career, has hit over nine home runs but once in his six seasons, and has played in only 60 percent of the games in his career.

There is the biggest rub against Ells. There is no way around it: he's been bitten by the injury bug, and has been since his high school days. The Yankees are betting that the odds are in his favor to stay healthy.

Those bashing the contract are focused on those two injury-destroyed seasons, but the Yankees focused on the four healthy seasons he's had. He led the American League in steals three of those four years; was top 10 in triples each year, leading the league in '09; twice top 10 in hits and two other times top 20. In those four healthy seasons, he hit .301, and in 2011 was the runner-up for the MVP, compiling one of the best overall individual seasons stat-wise in baseball history. He's one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, and one of the best centerfielders.

Yet Ellsbury's intangibles are his biggest gifts. He's electric, he stirs things up, puts pressure on the defense and pitchers with his speed, and good things seem to happen when he's on your team.

Here's another primary reason the Yanks went after Ellsbury. He was a key figure in two-thirds of the World Series titles Boston has won since 1918. He'd proven excellent in the postseason. The Yankees have been to the postseason an incredible 17 of the last 19 seasons. It's tough to say, but Ellsbury and the Yankees sound made for each other.

Seventeen of the last 19 seasons? That's an incredible run. No wonder the Yankees are hated. They're akin to the Lakers, the Patriots, heck, the Soviet Union Olympic teams of my youth: easy to root against. I usually back David against Goliath, don't you?

But the older I get, the more I start rooting for the player and not the franchise. I'd grown up a long-suffering Packers fan, and was excited when they finally returned to prominence with the great gunslinging Brett Favre as quarterback. I'd never enjoyed watching football more. When they drop-kicked Favre out the door late in his career (even with good reasons) I suddenly didn't much care how they did.

Sure, we all have our favorite teams. In baseball, mine has been the Red Sox since I was a young kid. But there comes a time when you should stop worrying about laundry (the uniforms) and instead focus your attention to the people wearing it. For me, it won't be hard to continue to root for Ellsbury, and yes, even now root for the Yankees.

The contract will enable Ellsbury to do amazing things, for himself, his family, for whomever and whatever he chooses. May he stay healthy, continue to kick butt, and thrill the Bronx, Madras and Jefferson County, and the rest of the baseball world, for many seasons to come.




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