TAMPA, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Jacoby Ellsbury walked into the Yankees clubhouse, filled with all that gear with pinstripes and the famous interlocking “NY.” He walked over to his locker in the back, the one used last spring by former Boston Red Sox teammate Kevin Youkilis.
Ellsbury was in the den of his former team’s enemy, at least in the view of many Boston fans. But for now, with games that count more than a month away, the speedy center fielder still gets preferential treatment after helping the Red Sox win another World Series.
He found that out when he went to a deli before heading to the ballpark Tuesday.
“Red Sox fan gave me some free breakfast this morning down here in Tampa,” he said happily. “There’s still the love there. It’s nice to see.”
Boston made no attempt to re-sign Ellsbury, a 2011 All-Star who led the majors with 52 steals despite a broken foot late last season. He hit .298 with nine homers and 53 RBIs, posting a .355 on-base percentage.
Needing to rebuild its batting order, New York agreed in December to a $153 million, seven-year contract, part of a spending spree that brought catcher Brian McCann, outfielder Carlos Beltran and pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to the Bronx.
But leaving the Red Sox for New York is different that arriving from Atlanta or even Japan. Babe Ruth, Sparky Lyle, Luis Tiant, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon are among those who made the Boston-to-Bronx transition.
“At different sporting events, Red Sox fans come up to me and thank me for the time in Boston. So it’s really been all positive,” said Ellsbury, who also helped win a title as a rookie in 2007, when he batted .438 with four doubles in a four-game sweep of Colorado.
He’s not really sure how he’ll be greeted April 22, when he returns to Fenway Park wearing a Yankees uniform. He took out a full-page advertisement in the Boston Globe in December to thank the fans.
“I definitely gave them everything I had in that organization, played as hard as I could, tried to do everything the right way,” he said. “I left it on the field for them, so whatever reception I get is yet to be seen. But I’m not going to think about it too much because it’s going to be out of my hands.”
A few days before arriving in Florida, Ellsbury had a chance to become accustomed to his new attire.
“I did a shoot for Nike the other day and so they sent down the official jersey and pants,” he recalled. “It felt good. Obviously looks a little different.”
Another big change will be his home ballpark. A left-handed hitter, Ellsbury had to deal with Fenway Park’s quirky dimensions. While the Pesky Pole down the right-field line is just 302 feet away, the fence quickly drops back to 380 in deep right and then 420 toward center.
At Yankee Stadium, balls seem to ride a jet stream over the short porch in right.
“There’s no reason necessarily to change your swing. It’s just you may now be rewarded for something that might not have been a home run before,” he said. “Maybe a double turns into a homer, or an out turns into a ball off the wall.”
The 30-year-old is set to hit lead off ahead of Derek Jeter and take over in center field from speedy Brett Gardner, who will shift to left.
“They are tremendous defenders,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “No question I like what they bring to the table defensively and offensively.”
Ellsbury expects them to be an intimidating tandem, one that can alter the complexion of games.
“When you’re looking in the outfield, it just looks like there’s nowhere you can hit it,” he said. “Anything that’s hanging in the air I feel like we’re going to track down.”
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