TAMPA — The moment this reporter tweeted that Jacoby Ellsbury had arrived at Yankees camp at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Twitter rage among Red Sox fans reached its height.
“#He’sDeadToMe” tweeted Katkat.
“Please don’t tweet a play by play of everything Jacoby does this year. I’m asking nicely,” wrote Colleen.
Nick Griffin contributed a familiar refrain, “He on the DL yet?”
Yet Linda Ajello departed from the haters: “I for one wish @JacobyEllsbury well. I’ll def. miss him in Boston.”
As did Shannon Gray: “This made me cry a little inside.”
Heck, a Red Sox fan who owns a deli near the stadium gave Ellsbury a free breakfast Tuesday morning.
It wasn’t that Ellsbury flew under the radar when he signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the enemy Yankees. It was just that the Red Sox had just won it all, with Ellsbury a big part of the success, and fans were bathing in the afterglow.
The consensus was that Ellsbury wasn’t going to stay in Boston, anyway. Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy felt so strongly that Ellsbury was leaving he told Ellsbury that he’d shave his head if Ellsbury stayed in Boston.
Now that the afterglow is fading and the emphasis is on next season, guess what? Ellsbury is a Yankee. He said Tuesday that he will be the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder.
Not shocking news except for the fact that no Yankees official had gone there, out of respect for Brett Gardner, a pretty good leadoff man and center fielder in his own right. Gardner likely will play left and bat ninth.
Ellsbury will give the Yankees the same things he gave the Red Sox. He is the premier base stealer in baseball. He will be a very good center fielder, a .300 hitter, and, because of New York’s short right-field porch, he’ll likely have closer to the 32 homers he hit in 2011 than the nine he hit last season.
Maybe everyone hates to admit it, but the Red Sox lost one extremely talented player. They definitely can’t replace him. They can come close. They can work around his loss and still score a ton of runs, but his skills are unique.
The Red Sox were definitely not going to go where the Yankees went on a contract. Ellsbury knew it. His agent, Scott Boras, knew it. The Red Sox knew it. The Sox never actually made an offer.
The good organizations can do what the Red Sox did. When a home-grown player finally reaches free agency and it doesn’t think it can sign him, it has to have faith that there’s a guy waiting to replace him. And that guy is Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Red Sox have made that leap.
Ellsbury refused to discuss the Red Sox’ talks with him, believing they should stay private and not wanting to create a firestorm. So he’s let it go.
“I know that after I signed, I got great phone calls and texts from John Farrell and Ben [Cherington] and a lot of the players sad to see me go, but happy for me at the same time,” Ellsbury said. “Leaving those guys behind is definitely the toughest part of this. We won together. I got to be a part of two championships and that will always be with me because that’s the organization I started with and grew up in. I’ll never forget it.”
Of course he won’t. Contrary to what people think, Ellsbury loved playing in Boston and wanted to stay and likely would have if the money was close.
You have to understand that Ellsbury is from Oregon, grew up on an Indian reservation, and never really fully got the Red Sox-Yankees thing.
“I don’t know what to expect [from the fans],” he said. “I just know I gave everything I had on the field and played hard. We had success. I know I fed off the energy the fans gave me there. Everyone was always so nice to me. And even now, just going to sporting events this winter that people came up to me and thanked me for the great years in Boston. And that’s how I feel. We had great years in Boston.”
But even if he’s loudly booed by Boston fans, it won’t faze him in the least. He sticks to what he said. He gave it everything. And while certain fans — this reporter in particular — would get on him for not coming back more rapidly from his injuries, when Ellsbury played, he played hard.
So there he stood at a corner locker at George Steinbrenner Field, one that was once occupied, interestingly, by former Red Sox teammate Kevin Youkilis, who once got on Ellsbury for taking too long to come back from broken ribs.
Wearing No. 22, Ellsbury said all the right things for New Yorkers. He’s excited to be a Yankee, excited to be in such a talented lineup and with a great organization.
He looks forward to the Derek Jeter farewell tour because, “Derek was always so good to me. Every time I was at second base, he had something good to say.”
Ellsbury said he’s fully recovered from the broken bone that he incurred in late August after fouling a ball off his foot. He played with the foot heavily bandaged as it was healing in the postseason. Think about how tough that had to be for a player who relies on speed.
That set the healing process back, he said, but he’s felt 100 percent “for a long time” and will have no restrictions in camp.
He said he won’t be fazed by the enormity of his contract and the expectation that brings, especially when you’re a Yankee.
“I’m the same player I was from Day 1,” he said. “That’s not changing for me. You play the game hard and everything will take care of itself.”
Including, more home runs.
Perhaps those 32 homers and the 105 RBIs he had in 2011 as the leadoff hitter were an aberration. But Ellsbury is pretty excited about the dimensions in right field at Yankee Stadium.
We’ve often commented that nobody in the Red Sox lineup, with the exception of David Ortiz, hit the ball harder in batting practice than Ellsbury. Ellsbury would shoot smoking line drives to right. If he does that at Yankee Stadium, in his own words, “You get rewarded.”
Defensively, he’ll have a similar situation with the Yankees to the one he had with the Red Sox. He had Shane Victorino, another center fielder, playing right field. Together they saved many runs. He’ll have the same situation with Gardner, who will play the bigger field in left at Yankee Stadium. Ellsbury mentioned how frustrating it is for an offensive player to hit a ball hard in the gap but have someone like Gardner track it down for an out.
And so, a very popular Red Sox player has crossed the line.
The level of venom is rising.
But there are plenty of adults in Boston who will thank Ellsbury first — then make sure he knows what team he plays for.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.