Imagine the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox centerfielder. He runs like the wind, tracks everything, he leads off, is an offensive catalyst, he hits from the leftside and he’ll surprise you with his power (ask the Yankees). Now picture Jacoby Ellsbury without the locks and beard and you’ve got the next Johnny Damon. Ellsbury is that good.
Baseball America named him to its mid-season All-American first-team. He leads the Pac-10 in hitting with a .451 batting average and is tied for the Pac-10 lead in stolen bases with 18. The co-captain from Madras, Oregon is showing the nation why he’s a legitimate MLB first round draft pick candidate.
Ellsbury was featured in Tuesday’s edition of the Portland Tribune in a story titled “OSU wields not-so-secret weapon”. The word is out on Ellsbury and who better to learn more about the next Johnny Damon than from his local paper. The ex-Bend Elk was also recently featured in an article written by the Bend Bulletin’s Sports Editor Bill Bigelow.Wccbl.com shares with you an inside look at OSU’s offensive machine and defensive wizard.
Published: April 24, 2005
By Bill Bigelow
It was his high school coach who explained to Jacoby Ellsbury a harsh baseball reality.
“He told me there’s no future for a left-handed shortstop,” Ellsbury recalls.
And ditto for a lefty catcher.
Those were two positions at which Ellsbury excelled as a kid growing up in Madras. So naturally he was disappointed when Bruce Reece, the coach at Madras High, stationed the talented young freshman in the outfield.
For Ellsbury, it felt more like being exiled.
“At shortstop, or catcher, I felt like I was involved in every play,” he says. “So at first, outfield wasn’t fun for me.”
But it didn’t take long for him to adapt.
“I started enjoying it,” he says. “Running down fly balls … making diving catches.”
By his senior year, in 2002, he was a prep star. He was co-player of the year in the Tri-Valley League and made the Class 3A all-state first team.
He was so good that, despite coming from a small high school in a relatively remote Central Oregon town, he was courted by major-college programs across the West.
So good that upon graduating he was selected in the 23rd round of the amateur draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Like many a school-age boy, Jacoby Ellsbury dreamed of one day being a pro ballplayer. His second-grade teacher once asked the kids in his class what each of them would like to grow up to be.
“I said, ?a major league baseball player’,” he remembers. “That got a lot of laughs.”
Nobody’s laughing now.
Today, Ellsbury is a junior at Oregon State University, batting leadoff and playing center field. His play ? in the field, at the plate, on the bases ? is a big part of why the Beavers are ranked among the nation’s elite (No. 9 this week by Baseball America) and contending for their first championship since OSU won the Pacific-10 Northern Division title in 1994.
There’s even talk of the Beavers playing in the College World Series, something only one Oregon State team has ever done ? back in 1952.
And in June, the big leagues will come calling on Ellsbury again. Only this time, the experts say, he’ll be selected in an early ? big-money ? round. And this time, off to the pros he’ll go.
Sitting in the dugout at OSU’s Goss Stadium before the start of a midweek practice, Ellsbury reflects on the difficult choice he faced when he was drafted out of high school.
“It was an opportunity to play major league baseball ? my dream since I was a little kid,” he recalls. “But it (the decision) was really hard.”
Pat Casey, the veteran head coach at Oregon State, helped persuade the vacillating teen.
“We talked about how the maturing process of college would really benefit him,” says Casey.
Ellsbury decided on college, accepting a scholarship offer from OSU. It’s a choice he has never regretted.
“I’m glad I went to college out of high school,” Ellsbury says. “Oregon State has been a perfect fit for me. I couldn’t ask for a better college experience.
“It’s close to home. My family has been very supportive of me, and they can come to all the home games. That’s important to me, because I wanted them to be part of my college experience.”
What an experience it’s turning out to be. While leading the Beavers to new heights this season, Ellsbury is gaining national recognition. Baseball America magazine named him to its All-America first team in both its preseason and midseason selections. The publication also lists him as the Pac-10’s fastest runner and best defensive outfielder.
What’s more, going into this weekend’s three-game series with Washington State, Ellsbury’s season batting average was .454 ? highest in the Pac-10 and fourth in the entire country among Division I programs. He was leading the conference in on-base percentage (.547) and stolen bases (17), and he was tied for second in hits (64).
Defensively, Ellsbury has been flawless this spring. He has 75 putouts to his credit ? including some spectacular diving, leaping, crashing-into-fences catches ? all without committing a single error.
As for the Oregon State record book, Ellsbury is on pace to establish new school marks for career at-bats, hits, runs scored and stolen bases. And he’ll do it all in just three seasons, because as his stock soars with the big-league scouts, so does the certainty that he will be among the top players selected in baseball’s 2005 amateur draft.
“When it comes to a complete player, Jacoby’s about as good as it gets,” says Casey, the OSU coach. “And, he’s just one heck of a kid. His character is off the charts. The major league scouts are all saying ?What an unbelievable kid.’ ”
“It’s exciting to hear all that,” Ellsbury says. “But at the same time, I try not to listen or get too caught up. I have to put my team first. I just try to focus on winning ballgames.”
He admits, though, that there are times when he just can’t help but ponder what his future might hold. And who can blame him? He’s this close to seeing his boyhood dream come true.
“I really don’t tell people,” he says with a modest grin. “But I think about being in the major leagues ? being at the All-Star game, the World Series.”
“Yeah, I can see myself there.”