In the immortal words of Kevin Garnett, "Anything's possible."
Thatís how Jacoby Ellsbury assesses his potential for the upcoming season. Entering his second full season playing in the major leagues, Ellsbury is expected to be the every-day center fielder for the Red Sox now that Coco Crisp is with the Kansas City Royals.
I spoke with Ellsbury, 25, about leading the American League with 50 stolen bases last year, what he did to improve himself in the off-season, and the increased expectations that come with winning the starting job on a big-league team.
TC: You played a lot of baseball last season. How did that shape your workouts this winter?
Ellsbury: I worked real hard last season. Real hard. I was in very, very good shape, but I donít think I was necessarily in the best baseball shape, in a sense. I had a lot more opportunity to throw and hit in the off-season, and that is helping out a lot. Just being in the warm climate in Arizona, being around big-league guys and training with them in the off-season, talking to them when weíre working out, that sort of thing helps a lot.
TC: What was different? What do you do differently as you progress off-season to off-season, learning about what you need to do to be ready for the season?
Ellsbury: A lot of it is flexibility as far as strength. The stronger you get, you still have to maintain that flexibility, whether itís the shoulders, legs, or hips. And then I did a lot of baseball stuff in the off-season. Hitting, throwing Ö I think this year Iím in my best baseball condition. Iíve always been in great shape, thatís never been an issue, but I think maybe [Iím in] the best baseball-condition shape.
TC: Youíve been playing longer seasons each year as you progress. How much of a toll does that take on you?
Ellsbury: I think the biggest thing going through your first year is just knowing what to expect. Last year was my first full season [in the majors], and Iíd never been through one. You change your workouts because maybe you lifted a little too much or a little less in the off-season. Do you need to cut it down? That sort of thing. I think I got a lot better understanding about what I need to do to maintain strength, endurance, that sort of thing.
TC: Everyone is asking you about Coco being gone. Obviously, it doesnít change what you have to do to get ready for the season, but how much does that tell you about the teamís confidence in you as a young player?
Ellsbury: Yeah, they said it to me ó they have the confidence in me to go out as an every-day center fielder. Iíve played more games in center field than any other position last year, even with me playing left and right. I have the confidence in myself, and itís nice for them to have that confidence in me, too.
TC: Youíre a center fielder, and the center fielder of the future, but as a young player, youíre still asked to move to the other outfield positions from time to time.
Ellsbury: Itís nice. If need be, I can always play a different position. But it is nice to play one position.
TC: I donít want to say you play with reckless abandon, but you go so hard after fly balls that it often seems like youíre going to get hurt crashing into walls or teammates. Are you ever concerned about injuries because of the way you play?
Ellsbury: I pretty much play one speed. Thatís what I play at, and thatís what Iíve always played at. I donít see me ever being any different.
TC: Youíre not going to become more conservative now that youíre an every-day player, are
Ellsbury: Exactly. Whether itís playing ping-pong, playing baseball, or whatever, Iím going hard, so it doesnít matter.
TC: People talk a lot about how many bases you might steal in a season. Are you a guy who sets any kind of numerical goals or milestones that you try to achieve over a season?
Ellsbury: You know, Iíve thought about that, about what the goals were, but as far as people wanting to know about the steals and that sort of thing, I didnít want to set a bar on it. I think if I wouldíve said 40 steals last year, I would have been happy with that. But then I might have slowed up and been comfortable. Obviously, I was able to exceed 40 and reach 50, but I didnít want to put that bar on it. I didnít have a number in mind. I just go out, get on base, and steal as many as I can if need be, with the team dictating what [Red Sox manager Terry Francona] wants to do. Everything else will take care of itself.
TC: Back to your conditioning for this season. What have you done to ensure you can keep playing at that high level, playing at full speed, now that youíll be asked to play even more this season?
Ellsbury: The biggest thing, the main focus I had going into the off-season, was to condition my body to play every single day. To be in the lineup every night. Going through my first full season last year, I had a pretty good idea what I needed to do with my style of play. Diving for balls, stealing bases, it all takes its toll on your body. I wanted to be prepared for that.
Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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