You Never Know…
Baseball is not in the headlines right now. As we know, they always take a backseat at this time in order for us to concentrate on those basketball players shaking it up, and to watch those hockey sticks raise high in the air before coming down to crack someone‘s jaw. Add to that a Belmont coming up that the world seems to be enchanted by, and baseball becomes the ‘orphaned’ sports child. Heck, even the NFL has found their ‘Tebowmania.’ So, what does baseball offer? Do they have a player that young teenage girls are using as an escort to their prom? (As cardboard cutouts, of course, not the real, live player). Well…not exactly, but the L.A. Dodgers are offering a name that is being bantered about as one man who will have a very huge and memorable season.
A.J. Ellis earned All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team honors all four seasons while he played at Austin Peay University – becoming only the fifth player in history to accomplish this. Completing college with a .351 batting average, he is still the all-time leader at Austin Peay with 263 hits.
It was in the 18th round that A.J. was selected by the Dodgers in the 2003 Draft. Fans saw Ellis as the starting catcher for the AAA Isotopes, a team out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, until he was called up to the Dodgers. And after starting the 2010 season in the Minor Leagues, Ellis was again recalled back to L.A. when a teammate of his went on the Disabled List.
Now, here we are in 2012 and A.J. is deep into Dodgers’ world. He has gone back and forth in his baseball life – spending most of his time in New Mexico with the Isotopes. And because of his consistent hard work, he is now a .262 career hitter who has ended up with the starting job in L.A..
Is this incredible? Is this a grand story? No. However, this young man, who has not been headlining for the last few years, is now being looked at as a team leader in L.A. and a probable All-Star. Apparently, it is because of A.J.’s personal devotion to his goals. He wants this. He wants to be a Dodger, he wants to be in the World Series, and he wants to show the world what he has to offer – which is a great deal of talent and skill.
In his own words, the young man stated recently: “I made the decision that I was going to come in and be who I was; lock in my identity as a player.” His three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday beating Houston 6 to 3 also helped put a period on the end of that sentence.
What is the key to this underdog’s new confidence, and why exactly is he shining so brightly on that field? Ellis said that he’s simply trying to relax and enjoy the game, and NOT try so hard to do things that are simply not in his repertoire.
In addition, Ellis stated that he truly wanted to focus his energies on his teammates and pitching staff…helping them to get through the trying times in a game. “I want to push them and encourage them, and it kind of takes the pressure off myself and frees me up to make my own game happen.”
He’s not kidding. Whatever strategy he’s using is certainly working. Up close, this is a man who looks like a football defensive lineman, who owns a big swing. But he’s also shown and proven that if you try too hard and put too much pressure on yourself, you tighten and simply miss the pitch. Bringing in a new plan of focusing on his pitchers and letting his own game progress, Ellis has, in 37 games, hit .317 with five home runs, 23 RBIs and owns an incredible .442 on-base percentage.
“I’ve suddenly started hitting home runs,” A.J. laughed with reporters. “For a long time, people wanted me to find a way to tap into my size and strength and hit with far more power. It became one of those things where the more you try and do something more powerfully, you’re not going to be able to do it at all.”
The L.A. hitting coach, Dave Hansen, isn’t all that shocked by the change and the huge improvement in A.J. because he says the young man’s work ethic and desire to improve his game is always incredible. In fact, Hansen refers to Ellis as relentless.
“A.J. knows what he’s trying to do out there and what he wants to accomplish, and he works toward that every single day. He has a plan for everything he does on the field and he sticks with it. He’s out there in the cage for the early hitting work, focusing on getting his mind right for the game. And he does it while playing the most grueling position on the field at catcher.”
How true. I know that most think Ruth, DiMaggio – these are the guys (no matter what fanciful billion-dollar players there are in our world nowadays), but a catcher is an absolutely horrific job. They catch two or three bullpens – each yet another 45 minutes in a crouch – and sometimes this difficult schedule is exactly why catchers are amazing defensive players but they just don’t have the juice to be a hitter. Not so with A.J. Ellis.
On top of it all…his team loves him and thinks he is one of – if not THE – hardest worker on that field. In fact, everyone seems to be of the same mindset – they want A.J. to get all the accolades possible. He’s playing at an All-Star level, but when he is asked about his own seemingly ‘brilliant’ season thus far – A.J. only wants one thing – to get the last out in the final game of the World Series.
It’s not often you see humility in the land of sports. A.J., however, shouts out about being humbled by the success that’s coming his way, and constantly thanks his teammates and coaches for their respect and pride in his team-focused efforts. And when it comes to his teammates, they offer only praise. Treanor, said to all reporters at the game: “Everybody, please vote for A.J. for the All-Star team. He deserves it. He’s having a great year.”
The guy must be something for this many people to be on board the “A.J. Train.” In fact, it would be a very thrilling World Series if the Dodgers took it all and the last out of the last game was provided by this mesmerizing catcher.
I look forward to it!
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Until Next Time, Everybody.