As I’ve recently ruminated in this space, it has not been a good ethical year for sports. Crooked refs, illegal videotaping, dog fights, steroids; it seems that every few weeks there has been another story in the news telling us how the privileged folks who play professional sports have decided they are above the rules (and in some cases, the law). That is why I love Jacoby Ellsbury.
In a year when it’s hard to find a sports hero I can hold up to my son or daughter, Jacoby redeemed just a little bit of my faith in the athlete as role model. His story sounds like the script of a 1950s movie.
The first Navajo to make it to the major leagues, Jacoby had a stellar career at Oregon State before being drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2005 draft.
He started this season at Boston’s AA Portland Sea Dogs. He later went to the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox (where he set the franchise record with a 25-game hitting streak), before being called up to The Show late in the season. In 33 regular season games, he hit .353, was nine for nine in stolen bases and played the tricky Fenway Park outfield like he’d been doing it all summer. His postseason play was just as good. After sitting out several games, he was put into the outfield and stayed there right through the Red Sox’s four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies to win the World Series.
It didn’t take long for the sports media to jump all over this new, exciting player. In listening to the cookie-cutter interviews that every player must endure, Jacoby showed that he was not only an extremely talented player, but also a nice young man. He speaks to the press with intelligence and not even a hint of the braggadocio that has marked so many young sports stars of late. You can tell he is sincere in what he says, and I just bet he is thinking “My mama might see this, so I better make her proud.” He does.
I don’t think there is any question that Jacoby Ellsbury will be a big star, and as a lifelong Red Sox fan, I hope he does that in a Red Sox uniform. Time will tell whether he is really who he appears to be. I hope he is. I also hope that there are many more young people coming up through the college and minor league sports systems who are like him. This kid who started the year in AA ball and ended up with a World Series ring is not only showing himself to be an old-fashioned sports role model, he could also be a role model for many older, more experienced players who have forgotten their responsibilities to the heritage of the sports they play and the people—especially the young people—who look up to them.