TAMPA — Jacoby Ellsbury was busy packing an equipment bag as he spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon in the Yankees clubhouse at Steinbrenner Field. It was black with red trim and had a Red Sox logo on either side.
That Ellsbury spent seven seasons playing for the Red Sox won’t easily be forgotten, tangibly or otherwise. He was a member of two World Series champions and played for two other teams that made the playoffs.
Ellsbury set a team record with 70 stolen bases in 2009 and was second in the voting for American League Most Valuable Player in 2011.
But Ellsbury showed little emotion when discussing his decision to switch sides in baseball’s biggest rivalry.
“I think it was a very easy transition,” Ellsbury said before the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 8-1. “When I first signed, a few of the guys called me to congratulate me and let me know I was welcome here. It’s been an easy transition.”
Ellsbury didn’t play in Tuesday’s game because of a strained right calf muscle and isn’t expected to travel to JetBlue Park for Thursday’s rematch. But he did take a few swings in the batting cage under the stands and ran across a few of his old teammates there.
“Said hello and saw some of the coaches as well,” he said. “It was good.”
When asked if it was hard for him to leave the Red Sox, Ellsbury deftly evaded the question.
“I’ve always said I enjoyed playing there, awful lot of memories,” he said. “Spent nine years in the organization, roughly a third of my life with one team. Definitely a lot of great memories, a lot of friends over there. Still continue to have those relationships with guys.”
The Red Sox are still uncertain how they will replace Ellsbury in center field. Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. was the favorite at the start of spring training but Grady Sizemore has made surprising strides.
Ellsbury was strongly noncommittal about the competition.
“Think they’re both going to do well,” he said. “They’re both really great.
“I trained with Grady [in Arizona] this last offseason so I know Grady a little bit. Obviously I know Jackie pretty well. He has a bright future. I wish him the best. I wish both of them the best.”
The Red Sox play the Yankees in New York April 10 and the Yankees’ first trip to Fenway Park will be April 22. Ellsbury is sure to feel the wrath of some fans that night, assuming he isn’t on the disabled list.
“I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to the game,” Ellsbury said. “I mean, you spend nine years with an organization, get drafted by them, go through the minor league system and everything.
“I think it’ll be different, obviously. But definitely excited for the opportunity I have here. Definitely blessed to play in [the Red Sox] organization.
“Won two championships, those are the memories I have, all the positive stuff. I feel very fortunate to be over here with a great bunch of guys. Great organization. They’re hungry, wanting to win.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell hopes that familiarity will aid in pitching against Ellsbury.
“We had the fortunate ability to see him,” said Farrell. “We know what the strengths are. We have more of an in-house feel of where the challenges existed.
“He’s a damn good player. The more we can keep him off the bases, the less chance he has to create havoc. He’s on the other side now. They got a player, a very good player.”
The Yankees moved quickly to sign Ellsbury, offering him seven years and $153 million with an option for 2021. No team, including the Red Sox, was willing to counter that for a player who has missed 264 games because of injury the last four seasons, and Ellsbury signed on Dec. 13.
The Yankees weren’t done there. Along with Ellsbury, they signed premier free agents Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka. Finishing 12 games behind the Red Sox and out of the playoffs led to wild spending.
“Lot of new names, lot of real good players,” Farrell said. “I don’t know if there’s any one guy who stands out more than the other. The one thing that kind of jumps out is the pace in which they got Jacoby, as quick as they moved to sign him.
“That offer, obviously, had to be so much greater than anything else Jacoby was fielding. Not knowing anything, but to make that decision that quick in the offseason obviously they were very aggressive going towards him.”
Ellsbury said it was “exciting” when the Yankees made their offer.
“I saw what they were doing, their history and a chance to win right away and a chance to win the championship,” he said. “That was the biggest thing.”
A Yankees official broke up the brief interview just as Ellsbury finished his comment. By then, his old equipment bag had been packed and was buried deep in his locker.