NEW YORK — Deep down, Jacoby Ellsbury probably knows he’s going to hear it from Red Sox fans the first time he steps to the plate at Fenway Park wearing No. 22 for the New York Yankees. But Friday, at his news conference after signing a seven-year, $153 million contract, he spoke about the good memories and the good treatment from Boston fans, but mostly how he looked forward to “the next chapter” of his career.
“I’m not sure,” Ellsbury said when asked what kind of a reception he expects when he returns to Fenway Park. “I guess how I look at it is, like I’ve mentioned numerous times, I have great memories and the fans were great to me. They treated me well. The winning, the championships, it was all good. I guess we’ll see, but I appreciate how they treated me.’’
And if the fans boo? “Fans like to boo,’’ he said. “It’s fun to boo.”
Ellsbury, who took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe to thank the fans, didn’t have an offer from the Red Sox. According to his agent, Scott Boras, it was clear from early conversations with the Red Sox that they were not going to get into the years it would take to get a deal done.
Boras informed the Red Sox the market was moving fast. In other words, once the Yankees knew they were not going to commit $235 million to Robinson Cano, they were willing to commit $153 million to Ellsbury, and do it in a hurry.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he went to ownership and told them they needed to be “ahead of the market” on Ellsbury. The Yankees acted swiftly and although it isn’t Boras’s style to move that quickly with his free agents, the offer hit the items on the checklist — years, money.
“In early discussions they made it very clear they really wanted me now and in the future,’’ Ellsbury said. “That was important for me to hear.”
The recruiting began in earnest. Ellsbury got calls from Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.
“Those guys said I was really going to enjoy it here,’’ Ellsbury said. “You’re going to have a good time. Obviously they stressed what the city has to offer, the fans, how the organization is first class. With the history, but I knew about the history, all of those things weigh on your decisions.’’
Ellsbury, who was joined by his wife Kelsey, as well as Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine, Boras and others, said he had dinner with Dustin Pedroia on Thursday and Pedroia, one of his closest friends, told him he understood the decision. He even got a call from Cody Ross, who went to Arizona from Boston when the Red Sox wouldn’t go three years with him after the 2011 season.
Boras revealed some details about his conversations with the Red Sox, but Ellsbury did not.
“There’ll be a time to talk about that,’’ Ellsbury said. “Not going to get into that now. It’s a valid question.
“There were numerous teams I had to make a decision on. The Yankees called and let me know how much they wanted me. That’s when discussions moved fast. I had never been a free agent, so I didn’t know how fast things could move. They moved quickly and they were done in a quick and timely manner. “
Ellsbury said he will feel “comfortable” playing at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s very enticing,” he said. “I always liked playing here. It’s a comfortable place. I don’t have to change my swing. My style plays well in this ballpark.”
Cashman was asked if he thought Ellsbury would hit for more power with the short porch in right field and he said, “We just want Jacoby to play like he did in Boston. He’s a difference–maker. After seeing him against us for all these years, we want him to do those things for us. He’s a great player.”
Which is why Cashman said he didn’t dismiss Ellsbury’s injury history; it just wasn’t enough deter him from signing Ellsbury.
Ellsbury defended and explained his injuries.
“I play the game hard the right way,’’ he said. “I take pride in playing every day. Two unfortunate things happened when I collided with Adrian Beltre [in 2010], a big guy to hit. It was a freak accident. It healed and I have no ill effects. And then trying to break up a double play for Dustin and had the guy land on me [shoulder]. Those things can happen to anybody.”
And then there was the broken bone in his foot and swollen left hand late in the season. He played through both.
“That bone [in his foot] doesn’t heal in a couple of weeks,” Ellsbury said. “The foot is good now. I’m doing all my training. It didn’t feel good [in the postseason]. It was still healing but I felt I could go out and play and not make it worse. There was no question I wasn’t going to miss time. I was going to play no matter how it felt. There was a risk of fouling a ball off the foot and making it worse. The risk/reward was worth the risk. I feel fortunate nothing happened. It feels good now.”
Manager Joe Girardi feels the Yankees are getting a great player and, “he’s no longer going to be a thorn in my side.’’
Girardi went through the litany of things Ellsbury had done against the Yankees over the years. “I’ve seen him beat us hitting home runs, I’ve seen him steal second, I’ve seen him steal third. I’ve seen him steal home off Andy Pettitte,” Girardi said.
Ellsbury said winning a second championship with the Red Sox was something he’ll never forget.
“Boston Strong, the bombings, a lot of things went into that season,’’ he said. “I know Jonny [Gomes] said we picked up the city, but the city helped us as well. The cheering, the support. A season I’ll never forget and happy to have been a part of two World Series with the Red Sox.”
But the reality is he’s a Yankee. He’s wearing the same No. 22 that Roger Clemens wore with the Yankees.
“It’s definitely sunk in,” Ellsbury said. “Just today during the press conference, I enjoyed it. I had a good time. I’m looking forward to getting to spring training and getting to know my teammates. There’s a lot that goes into building a team. Opening Day will be special at Yankee Stadium. I’ll be looking forward to that.”
And accepting his 2013 World Series ring as a Yankee?
“I know what it takes to win. It’s not an easy task. It was a lot of hard work, good memories. It will be a proud day when I get that ring. A lot of work went into it,” Ellsbury said.