Pioneer guest column

When the word came out that Jacoby Ellsbury had signed with the Yankees, I don’t know which amazed his following more, the price tag or the fact that he was now a Yankee. I, personally, was delighted with both. It is an incredible accomplishment.

I’ve been a Red Sox fan for the past several years because of Jacoby’s affiliation and the fact that I didn’t like George Steinbrenner and all his money. I had grown up adoring Mickey Mantle and lived and died with his every move. Growing up in the 50s, I’d sprint down the stairs and out the door to get the morning copy of the Des Moines Register to check the Yankee box score to see how Mickey did. I remember the headline “Mantle goes for the Cycle” almost like it was yesterday. My feet didn’t touch the ground for a week.

We traveled to Kansas City in ’55 to see the Yankees play the Athletics in a double header. It was an era when the players generally stayed with the same team their entire career. You knew every name and every personal statistic. My dad and I went to the Muehlebach Hotel after the game, an elaborate facility where the Yankees were staying. We sat in the lobby as they filed in and watched as they talked, some smoking, flicking their ashes into their pant cuffs. I kept my eyes open for Mickey. I had a hotel postcard for him to sign. I don’t recall if I was able to breathe or not.

The Yankees all turned as a gray-haired man came down the stairs accompanied by a good sized body guard. Dad asked me if I knew who the man was. I responded that it was President Truman. He told me to have him sign my post card.

I followed him out to the parking lot and as he was getting in the car, introduced myself, thanked him for all that he had done for us, and handed him my post card and a pen. He put his hand on my shoulder and shook my hand and wrote me a short note.

When I returned, the Yankees had dispersed – no Mickey, no Maris, no Whitey, no Yogi. But I had my postcard that I still have along with the picture of President Truman grinning, holding his “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN’’ headline. We were staunch Republicans, so it was a bit of a stretch to treasure such things.

The years went by and after Mickey left the game, my interest in baseball waxed and waned — until along came Jacoby. He and a boy named Colter Barnes seemed destined from the start to be headed for a bigger stage.

Colter, unfortunately got hurt playing football, so his dreams were snuffed out. Jacoby continued on course, giving up a promising football career to avoid further injury after breaking his collarbone in a playoff game. I remember telling him that he would be the best wide receiver in the game and he sure wouldn’t want to have any regrets by not playing football.

And anyway, what were the chances of — I had to stop and not finish saying – hitting the big time. His dad, Jim, looked at me and stated that Jacoby was going to be a baseball player and pretty much stated that I needed to limit my advice and just stick to doctoring.

I did want him to run with the track team at district after the baseball team had been eliminated from the playoffs. Some thought that it wouldn’t be fair for those on the track team that had worked hard all year. Sisters had won the state track meet using two outfielders from their baseball team the year before. Well, anyway, “it couldn’t be arranged.” Every time I hear things like “fastest base runner in the Pac-10, probably top three from home plate to first base in MLB,” I feel like someone poured salt in the wound, having been deprived of seeing him perform on the oval track.

We followed Jacoby’s career, seeing a few games at Oregon State, wishing now that we would have seen more. Like others, we followed the sports articles.

Sitting in a small fishing lodge in the interior of Alaska, I found an old sports page in a stack of newspapers. “Ellsbury stars for locals” was the headline that greeted me. I let everyone (all six patrons) know that I knew this kid and to keep an eye on him.

All of our senses turned to Jacoby in 2007. Almost 50 years after I had rushed to the front steps to read the Des Moines Register, I found myself hustling to our rural mailbox to get the paper to read the Red Sox box score. I didn’t think that I would ever have that “Mickey Mantle” feeling again, but here it was again, and then some. “Ellsbury steals home.” Ecstasy.

At his hometown celebration (Elvis couldn’t have generated more excitement) we all rejoiced. I gave him a book on character, written by Sen. John McCain with an inscription by the senator on the inside cover. I told him to go see the movie “The Natural,” with Robert Redford so that, even though he wasn’t a ladies’ man, he could learn a lesson on the pitfalls of women, particularly blondes.

Well, so much for that advice. He did find a lovely blonde lady and it is probably the best thing that ever happened to him. His wife, Kelsey, is from Pendleton and the folks in the sporting goods store can’t say enough good things about her. She will be a stabilizing force to a man who has always been true to himself.

I truly feel that character will define him. Hopefully, he can reach his potential and become a legend in a city that is the pinnacle of America’s favorite past time. Mantle succumbed to the pressures and lifestyle of “the Big Apple.” Many of baseball greats had character flaws that were exposed or created by fame.

Jacoby represents something very unique in the sporting world. There are certainly some very altruistic athletes that reach out to others. Jacoby, by how he handles himself on and off the field, is exemplary. He is human and no one expects perfection. I suppose his mother wasn’t happy when he got tossed from a game complaining too much on a bad call. He stood his ground and that’s not a bad thing. Charles Barkley didn’t want the responsibility of being a role model and maybe Jacoby doesn’t relish the idea. Just being himself is good enough. If I were 10 again, I’d follow his every move. “A careful man I want to be, for a little fellow follows me. I do not dare to go astray for fear he’ll go the self -same way.” I think I heard him say that.

Watching him put on the pinstripes at Yankee Stadium with his wife by his side was like watching a Disney movie. This is real, however, and as unpredictable as life is who knows what lies ahead.

We do know that his loyal following will always appreciate the honor and excitement he has brought to our community.

An aside: I have experienced that feeling created by fame one time. We had just won our seventh game on the quiz show Family Feud and when we left the studio, the entire audience was waiting outside to greet us. They yelled and screamed and wanted to touch us. I smiled and stepped forward and reached out, but they rushed past me to greet my mother-in-law who was the star of the family. Isolated, I headed off to the parking lot. But for 10 seconds I felt that rush from a loving crowd. Intoxicating.

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