There has to be a powerful swarm of butterflies swimming through Jacoby Ellsbury’s insides right about now. The long-time Red Sox and first-year Yankee makes his first return to Boston’s Fenway Park tonight, where more than 37,000 fans will wait to great him one way or the other.
There most certainly will be boos. A segment of the Red Sox fan base felt betrayed at Ellsbury’s decision to accept a 7-year, $153 million contract from their hated rivals over in the Bronx. But how many? And will there be any segment of the Fenway populous that actually gives him a cheer?
Recent history presents a mixed bag.
In 2006, Johnny Damon made the move from Boston to New York, and he was unceremoniously booed for a full 30 seconds prior to his first at-bat back in Fenway. It wasn’t just boos though. Throughout his tenure with the Yankees, Damon endured curses, obscene gestures, homemade signs – the whole gamut of fan abuse.
That kind of reception has to be tough for a guy who, for years past, put his heart and soul onto the field and did everything in his power to better all things Red Sox.
“The toughest thing for me was the whole experience,” Damon is quoted as saying to reflect on his own experience in light of Ellsbury’s upcoming return. “That’s why I try not to even think about it anymore. You find out how vicious people are, and how a jersey can change people’s thoughts on you and on people and on society.”
What was Damon to do? The Yankees offered him $12 million more than what Boston had offered. Can fans really blame him for switching sides?
Of course, Damon was not the first to go through that kind of realization. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs left Boston for New York in 1993. To this day, Boggs feels that it is the spite of the Red Sox organization that is the reason they still have not retired his jersey in Fenway.
But in 2012, another Red Sox star made a more celebrated pinstriped return to Fenway. Here’s a clip of Kevin Youkilis’ first at bat in Fenway as a member of the Yankees, and it seems like the fans reaction to him was much more mixed; much more positive.
Boston fans take their baseball – arch rivalry and all – very seriously. Sometimes that can lead to vindictive feelings. But I hope Ellsbury’s case is more akin to Youk’s than it was Damon’s, and that the fans feel more reflective, appreciative and respectful than hurt by his return. Without Ellsbury, there is no 2013 World Series Championship. But we shall see.
Damon offered up a few pieces of advice for Ellsbury in the event that Red Sox ire is at a fever pitch tonight, like it was for him.
1. Don’t worry about the media, because you are not going to get your side of the story out. Not in Boston, anyway.
“The Red Sox own the newspapers, they own the radio station, they own the NESN (New England Sports Network,” Damon said. “They were filling up the airwaves. I wasn’t surprised. God forbid somebody call in and said something good about me. I just don’t think it made the airwaves that night – or for the next four years.”
2. Just keep playing hard.
“Because fans respect that more than someone who just puts up numbers and doesn’t care about games 100 percent of the time,” Damon said. “Hard work and hustle can help you win some very important games.”