There has been an extended stay at Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona and now two weeks and counting at the Red Sox Player Development Complex in Fort Myers, Florida. So when will Jacoby Ellsbury be back?
And what has taken so long up to this point?
I flew to Fort Myers on Monday night to sit down with the Sox prized outfielder for a lengthy conversation about his rehab, his teammates and his critics. Well, there wasn't much talk about the latter, as Ellsbury is entirely focused on moving forward and not looking at the past. He's facing a huge uphill challenge to return to his early-season form — yes, the early-season form that comprised of just nine games, but you know what this guy is capable of.
When I asked him to give me three words that would describe his 2010 season, he replied, "Still a lot of time left, still a lot of time left. We’ve got two months, we can still get to the playoffs, and that’s what I’m looking at right now: coming back, contributing to the team and doing everything I can to get back as soon as possible."
Well played, Mr. Ellsbury. The 26-year-old outfielder sure knows that it’s not about what has happened in his past, but what he is aiming to accomplish in the future. Ellsbury would rather not say words like "frustration," "disappointment" or "anger" like I expected him to.
But the bottom line is, had Ellsbury been in the lineup this season as he usually is, the Sox would be a better team. The Red Sox are last in the majors with 32 stolen bases this season after finishing last season ranked fifth with 126 — not to mention Ellsbury's impact on the rest of the lineup as the team's leadoff hitter.
Instead, without Ellsbury, the Red Sox are facing a seven-game deficit to the Yankees in the AL East, and are five games out of a wild card spot.
"I’ve never been a part of a team where so many injuries happen," Ellsbury said. "Not only the pitchers but the position players as well. I think they’ve done a very good job of managing that, I mean, you look at all the injuries and say that you’re still in it, you’re still in it at this point in the season.
"These next two months are going to be huge for us. I think we have a good chance of making a good push for not only wild card but catching New York but I know the team has a lot of heart and they’re not going to give up until that last game and that’s what you can always expect out of the Red Sox."
Ellsbury has been watching every game and has kept in contact with his teammates.
"You’re with your teammates more than your family so you want to be there," he explained. "You want to be supportive. You want to be there for the wins you want to be there for the losses. It’s been tough, being away from the team, being away from the fans."
And if you don’t believe him, then who cares. Because all Ellsbury cares about is taking care of his No. 1 goal, which at the moment, is to return to the Red Sox lineup, where he belongs.
"It’s getting a lot better. I’ve been down here for about two weeks now, been taking [batting practice], taking grounders, doing all the work I need to get back," he said. "The game is the ultimate test. To get back with Boston, it’s just fun — fun being out there playing again, just being out hustling around."
Do you think he wants to be on the DL, away from his teammates, and making rehab starts at Red Sox Gulf Coast League games?
No professional baseball player does, and Ellsbury is no different.
He knew something was not right when he prematurely returned to game action in late May. And the setbacks just got worse and worse.
"I thought the four ribs originally were in pretty good shape but I had this constant pain in my back and thought it was something I’d have to play through. And when I came back, found out it was something a little bit worse than what we thought it was and then I just ended up making my situation worse.
"So, the four ribs that were originally we thought that were injured, those have been healed for a while now," he added. "With me playing on another broken rib that we didn’t see before is what caused kind of a domino effect and just prolonged the time I was out. In that aspect, it was a little frustrating, but we’ve done everything we can to get be back out on the field. I’m just excited to get back out there playing."
Red Sox fans can expect to see Ellsbury "soon," according to him. Neither the Red Sox nor Ellsbury himself want to put a specific timetable on his return. That would only bring on more critics and neither party involved wants to deal with that saga all over again.
Ellsbury wears No. 2 for the Boston Red Sox, and he wears it well. Fans love him, he gets the job done when he’s on the field every single game, and his effort is a dedicated and predictable 100 percent.
Public opinion and media scrutiny can be a tough thing for a professional athlete to deal with, and even more difficult when they are already facing the challenge of physical pain.
Give the guy the space he needs to heal, so that he can return to the field and do what he does best. He’s already addressed the issues of any disconnect with his teammates a month ago in Toronto.
"In the best-case scenario, yeah I’d like to be with the team,” Ellsbury told reporters on July 10. "But for me to get better, the Red Sox thought it would be best if I went to Arizona."
The Sox and Ellsbury hope to see the speedy outfielder return to the Boston Red Sox by early August. Until then, he’ll be working hard in the hot Florida heat to make a full recovery. In the meantime, keep the cynicism away from the game, and away from Ellsbury.