MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Not bad for openers: Ellsbury takes center stage

Not bad for openers: Ellsbury takes center stage

BOSTON -- Jacoby Ellsbury slapped the third pitch of the game off the center-field wall Tuesday night, missing a home run by inches. There you go, Red Sox Nation. Remember this guy?

Let's just say he knows how to make an entrance. Thus began an evening Ellsbury surely had thought plenty about the last few months.

Butterflies? Nope.

Instead, Ellsbury did what special athletes always think they can do. He took a night that could have been awkward, or even unpleasant, and made it his own personal stage.

Right there at the start, Ellsbury did it. He came close to making an even more dramatic return, but was placed at third base by umpires in the top of the first inning after a fan seemed to touch the ball.

"I missed it by a foot or two," he said. "I haven't seen the replay. I knew it was close. Yeah, it's nice. You want to do well. You want to put on a good performance."

Ellsbury was just getting warmed up. Moments later in the bottom of the first inning, he sprinted into left-center field and made a diving catch of a Grady Sizemore liner.

Got anything else for us, buddy?

Well, there was a two-run double to left-center in the top of the fifth inning as the Yankees went on to beat the Red Sox, 9-3.

Ellsbury got booed some, too, but it seemed almost half-hearted. It got a bit louder after he'd made a couple of plays, but it was nothing special.

Ellsbury simply wasn't the kind of player that would be easy for fans to dislike. He spent nine seasons in the Red Sox's organization, including seven with the big league team. He twice helped them in the World Series.

Along the way, Ellsbury was pretty much the consummate professional. He worked hard, played tremendously well at times, and after last season, accepted a seven-year, $153-million deal from the Yankees.

"If I was a young kid, to say you're going to put on two uniforms, a Boston Red Sox uniform and a New York Yankees uniform, I'd say that was pretty special," he said. "It's always something I'm proud of. I'll think of the two championships. I was very fortunate to be drafted by the Red Sox."

When the Red Sox ran a tribute to him on the Fenway Park video board after the first inning, fans gave him a warm ovation, prompting Ellsbury to wave.

"I thought it was great," he said. "I thought the fans were great. They've always treated me well here. They've always cheered me. The tribute was very classy by the Red Sox."

Actually, Ellsbury said whatever emotions he was fighting bubbled up a bit before the game.

"Seeing familiar faces, seeing the grounds crew, everybody," he said. "I saw teammates, trainers. Everybody I've seen for nine years, thanking me, congratulating me. That was the nice thing, the people."

Otherwise, there were no mixed emotions about returning to Fenway Park as a member of the Yankees.

"I was looking forward to it," Ellsbury said.

Ellsbury joked that he'd been in the tiny visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park only one other time.

"It's a little bit different," he said. "I never knew where the visiting players walked in. I've been to the [visitors'] clubhouse one time, about eight years ago for the Rookie Development Program. They were renovating the home locker room. It looks pretty close to the same. I think they said they replaced the carpet this year."

Ellsbury was happy to see Clay Buchholz, his first roommate in the Minors, and veterans such as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.

"I gave the [Red Sox] organization everything I had," Ellsbury said. "[I was] drafted by them. I left everything on the field, played as hard as I could, appreciated the fans, the support they gave me over the years. They were great to me. It's nice to see the teammates, but I think when I look back, just the fans, how they treated me in my time here, I'll really remember that. And then I'll think of the World [Series] championships, the two World Series we won, my first year in the big leagues in '07 and in 2013. Those are obviously things I'll never forget. Pretty special."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.