Ellsbury fine with taking speed to left
With a new number, new position, outfielder goes to work
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He arrived with a new position (left field) and a new uniform number (2), but the same calm demeanor that has marked his young career was ever-present. Jacoby Ellsbury saves his havoc for the basepaths, where he should once again steal close to the 70 bases he snagged in 2009.
It has been two months since manager Terry Francona and bench coach DeMarlo Hale informed Ellsbury of his move to left, to make way for established Gold Glove center fielder Mike Cameron.
Saturday was noteworthy only because it was the first time Ellsbury -- who reported to work four days before the first official workout for position players -- spoke publicly about the matter.
There was no anger in his voice, no look of deflation in his eyes.
"Yeah, I talked to Tito in the offseason," Ellsbury said. "Cam had never played left; in , I played left. It just was going to work out better for the team that I went over. He asked how I felt. As long as it helped the team, I told him I'd be fine with it."
While Cameron could have felt like the proverbial fish out of water in left, Ellsbury played there for a month in 2007 when Manny Ramirez was out of the lineup. He also spent time there in '08, when Coco Crisp was still in the mix.
In other words, Ellsbury won't need private tutoring lessons on the Green Monster from Hall of Famers Jim Rice or Carl Yastrzemski. He's been out there enough to know the nuances.
Francona went to great lengths to ensure Ellsbury realized that the move should in no way be construed as a demotion.
"I look back at some of the better basestealers over the years and a lot of them happened to be left fielders or right fielders, and I try to look for the best in it," Ellsbury said. "I think it's going to work out. I don't think it's going to be a problem. They say it will save my legs, but I'll still be going hard for balls and running."
Though some might assume the swiftest players in the league would play center instead of left, that's not always the case. Look at Carl Crawford with the Rays. And a more historic example that Ellsbury pointed out.
"Throughout the years, a lot of your basestealers like Rickey Henderson -- I'm throwing some big names out there -- have been corner outfielders," Ellsbury said. "You would think center would be the guys who steal more bases. I think there's something to it saving your legs a little bit. I think that's why it's been like that. Talking to Tito in the offseason, he said I'll play quite a bit of center, too, but for now, I'm the left fielder. There will be times when Cam gets a day off and I'll be playing center, and [Jeremy] Hermida or whoever it is will be playing left."
This isn't the first time Ellsbury has moved out of center in deference to another player.
"My first year at Oregon State, I played right a little bit," Ellsbury said. "We had a freshman All-American center fielder [Aaron Matthews]. But halfway through the season, they moved me to center field. I'm completely fine with this. Cam's happy, I'm happy and we're going to have a pretty good outfield."
Ellsbury has already made a collection of highlight-reel catches in his time in the Majors, but Cameron has been doing it for 15 years. So yes, there are many things the 26-year-old Ellsbury can learn in anticipation of eventually moving back to center at some point in his career. The Red Sox will have range galore in their outfield.
"I can learn from Cam, Cam can learn from me. We've already talked about that," Ellsbury said. "The biggest thing I think is that I have to have my ears open for Cam calling for the ball. When he calls for it, it's his ball, his play. I just have to back out and get out of the way."
Communication will be key, and Francona doesn't foresee any traffic accidents between the speedy outfielders.
"It's no different than anybody else. We always need to communicate in the outfield," Francona said. "The hope would be that there's not a lot of balls that hit the grass out there. I actually think it's easier for a guy that's played center field to understand the communication. If it breaks down from either side, it's not going to work. But Jacoby being a center fielder, he understands the need for communication. Mike Cameron's a really good veteran. That will be a strength."
Why did Ellsbury give up No. 46? Well, if you must know, Ellsbury had been pining for No. 2 over the past few years, but bench coach Brad Mills didn't want to part with it. Mills hadn't even had his news conference as manager of the Astros by the time Ellsbury was on the phone with assistant equipment manager Edward "Pookie" Jackson.
"I told Pookie that if [No. 2] ever became available, I was going to jump on it," Ellsbury said. "Right when I heard Brad Mills got promoted, he was the first one I called. It was within two minutes, and Pookie knew why I was calling and what it was about. Pookie said, 'Yeah, 'I've already got it.'"
What is significant about the number?
"I always wore it in high school," said Ellsbury. "It was my favorite number, so when it opened up, I jumped on it."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.