NEW YORK — Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t the first player to switch sides in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, but there’s still something unique about a prominent contributor crossing over. That isn’t lost on Ellsbury, who said Thursday he’s enjoying his new perspective.
Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees over the offseason, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of some Red Sox fans who watched the dynamic outfielder enjoy a ton of success with the organization that drafted him in 2005. However, Ellsbury said before Thursday’s Red Sox-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium — his first matchup against his former team — he has no regrets about his seven years in Boston and is looking forward to still being part of one of sports’ biggest rivalries.
“I think that’s the reason I love this rivalry — the passion that the fans have,” Ellsbury said. “I haven’t thought about (the fan reception) too much because whatever reception I receive will be out of my hands. But, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, I gave the organization everything I had.”
Ellsbury burst onto the scene in 2007 and helped the Red Sox secure their second World Series title in four years. He then enjoyed an interesting tenure in which he was praised for his tremendous skill set but frequently criticized for his inability to stay on the field.
There’s no denying Ellsbury is one of baseball’s most explosive talents, though, and the former Red Sox leadoff hitter insisted Thursday he laid it all on the line before leaving Boston in the wake of winning his second World Series title in 2013.
“Every time I stepped on that field I gave 100 percent. Left it out there,” Ellsbury said Thursday at Yankee Stadium. “I know the time I was there, people respected that — the way I played, the way I went about my business.”
Ellsbury might be in store for a mixed reaction when he returns to Fenway Park for the first time April 22. The 30-year-old already has drawn comparisons to Johnny Damon, who was instrumental in Boston’s 2004 World Series run before following the money and signing with New York before the 2006 season.
“I was always a fan of Johnny Damon,” said Ellsbury, clearly embracing the comparison despite the “traitor” label that’s often attached to Damon. “I liked how he played the game and how he went about his business. I know the fans in Boston loved him during his time there.
“I didn’t talk to him or anything when I decided to come here. But yeah, there are some comparables, but I know this has been done before. It’s just not Johnny. It’s just not myself. It’s a lot of guys. Like I said, I feel blessed to play for the Red Sox and I feel blessed to be here. To be a part of that rivalry still and I’m excited for another seven, eight years here.”
Ellsbury is off to a nice start with his new team — hitting .364 with a .417 on-base percentage through nine games — but his crossing over won’t really sink in until he starts doing damage against his former club. If Ellsbury gets his way, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue leaving a mark on the rivalry he already has his fingerprints all over.
“I definitely feel blessed,” Ellsbury said. “As a young kid, if you told me I was going to play for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, well, that’s pretty special.”