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A solid start for Yankee Ellsbury

Boston years helped former OSU star cope with Big Apple


ELLSBURYSEATTLE — For most players, to be thrust in the eye of the fishbowl that is the New York Yankees would be daunting, to say the least.

Not so much for Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Madras native and former Oregon State standout spent his first 6 1/2 major-league seasons in Boston, where the Red Sox and Fenway Park rule in the same way the Pope reigns in the Vatican.

“Playing in Boston helped him out,” Yankee first baseman Mark Teixera said last week during the team’s series against the Mariners at Safeco Field. “It’s not that much different than New York. You have a ton of fans; you have a ton of expectations. He hasn’t had that big of an adjustment period.”

“It’s really all I know — big market, this type of environment,” agreed Ellsbury, who had a 17-game hit streak come to an end Saturday night at Oakland. “There are things that are different, but the fans are treating me great. Don’t have any complaints whatsoever.

“I’m enjoying it. Just think of the guys who have put on the pinstripes over the years. It’s

an honor to be part of this

organization.”

A seven-year, $153 million free-agent contract in the offseason brought Ellsbury to the Big Apple, where Yankee baseball legacy begins with Babe Ruth and works its way through nearly a century to Derek Jeter.

Maybe there’s a place for Ellsbury in the pantheon of Yankee greats before he’s through.

The 30-year-old center fielder is making good in his first season with the Bronx Bombers, batting .286 in the three-hole.

“I’m feeling good,” Ellsbury said. “Hope I can keep it rolling.”

Ellsbury has scored 33 runs with 15 doubles, four home runs and 30 RBIs in 65 games — 40 percent of the regular season. Good numbers, but not great.

“I try to go up there with a solid approach every at-bat, and hopefully it carries over to the next game,” said Ellsbury, who was tied for second in the American League with 18 stolen bases going into this week. “That’s how you get those (hitting streaks), but I try not to dwell on it. There are games where you hit the ball great and don’t get rewarded. As long as you take a solid approach, good things usually happen.”

The Yankees outbid Boston to land Ellsbury with a contract worthy of superstar status. It seemed heretical to Red Sox followers that after hitting .298 with a major league-best 52 stolen bases for the 2013 World Series champions, Ellsbury would pull a Benedict Arnold and go to the Dark Side.

But Ellsbury said he never hated Boston’s AL East rivals, and likes the idea of being with a franchise always willing to spend what it takes to field a championship contender.

“It’s a small, close-knit group of guys who have played major league baseball, so you have that mutual respect for one another,” Ellsbury said. “I don’t feel any animosity toward any other team.

“I enjoyed my time in Boston. I’m still close to a lot of guys on the team. We won two (World Series) championships. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I appreciate everything (the Red Sox) did. They drafted me out of Oregon State. They gave me a chance to play there for seven great years.

“But I’m fortunate the Yankees gave me the opportunity to continue my dream of playing baseball.

“We have a talented group of guys. That’s one of the reasons I signed here. I know every year we have a chance to compete in the postseason. That was a big reason for me, the opportunity to chase another World Series championship.”

So far this season, the Yankees are mediocre. Through Sunday, they were 35-33 and tied for second with Baltimore in the AL East, 4 1/2 games behind division leader Toronto.

Ellsbury, though, has done his part to help the Yankees stay in contention.

“He’s a dynamic player, a guy who can beat you a lot of different ways,” Teixera said. “That’s really important to have on a team. He’s been great for us so far. He fits well with the guys, too. He has been great from day one.”

“The guy can do everything on a baseball field that you could possibly ask,” catcher Brian McCann said. “He does all of them at such a high level. I could sit here and talk for days about him. He has been very impressive.”

Ellsbury said he has especially enjoyed playing with Jeter, who is in the final year of a Hall of Fame career.

“It’s been great to see how he goes about his business,” Ellsbury said. “There are things you can take from Derek and incorporate into your career. There’s a reason why fans and media hold such respect for him. Wish it could be longer, but it’s been a privilege to play with him.”

Ellsbury said the huge contract — which pays him an average of nearly $22 million annually for seven years — doesn’t create additional pressure.

“I’m going to put the same effort in no matter what,” Ellsbury said. “From day one when I was in the minor leagues, I’ve been the same exact player as far as effort and hustle goes. In that regard, it doesn’t change how I go about my business and prepare for the game.

“Everything’s the same, except now I have some security, which is very nice. But when you step on the field, you’re not thinking about that stuff. You’re out there playing the game you love and having fun.”

Despite a .297 career batting average and enough speed on the base paths to twice lead the majors in stolen bases, Ellsbury has been an All-Star only once — in 2011, when, as Boston’s leadoff hitter, he put together a season for the ages.

Ellsbury ranked among the AL’s top six in nearly every offensive category, including total bases (364, first), hits (212, third), runs (119, third), doubles (46, tied for third), home runs 32, (tied for third), stolen bases (39, fourth), batting average (.321, fifth), on-base plus slugging (.928, fifth), slugging (.552, tied for fifth) and RBIs (105, tied for sixth).

He became the fourth major-leaguer ever to reach 200 hits, 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 35 stolen bases in a season. Ellsbury won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, was named AL Comeback Player of the Year and was runner-up to Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander for the league’s most valuable player trophy.

Ellsbury hasn’t forgotten his roots. He recently made a $1 million donation to Oregon State’s baseball program to help coach Pat Casey renovate Goss Stadium.

“Going to Oregon State was a special time in my life,” said Ellsbury, the leader on the 2005 OSU team that reached the College World Series, the first time for the program in 52 years. “Pat recruited me and built that program. As an alum, it’s special seeing year in and year out how hard the guys work and how well they play. I want to continue to be a part of the program.

“Hopefully, the kids in the Northwest and around the country will want to go to Oregon State and keep that tradition going.”

Ellsbury grew up a Mariners fan, a devotee of Ken Griffey Jr. Seattle remains a favorite stop on the circuit, in part because his parents, family friends and friends can make the drive from Oregon.

“A lot of my buddies made the trip for this series,” he said last week. “I always get back to Oregon at least once a year. I’ll get up there this offseason again. Maybe I’ll head to Corvallis.”

Ellsbury and wife Kelsey — a Pendleton native and Oregon State grad who worked as reception in the Beaver football office — make their offseason home in Scottsdale, Ariz. During the season, they rent a place on New York’s upper west side.

“We’re looking to buy something right now,” Jacoby said. “It’s in the works. I’m enjoying the city. I drive to the stadium on game days. I like the commute, that time to myself.”

It’s one of the rare moments when Ellsbury can escape life’s constant tugs. Fame and fortune comes with a price, especially when you’re the center fielder for the

Yankees.

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