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Despite switching sides, Ellsbury hails Red Sox years

NEW YORK -- Jacoby Ellsbury, who has switched sides in baseball's most historic rivalry, will receive a parting gift from the Red Sox on Friday when he is presented with his 2013 World Series ring.

Boston manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington will present the ring to the center fielder, who also won one in 2007.

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Ellsbury batted third for the Yankees on Thursday, marking his first career game against the only professional organization he had ever played for. He went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored in New York's 4-1 win.

"Well, I'm excited to play," Ellsbury said at a pregame news conference. "Spent nine years with the organization, seven years in the big leagues -- roughly a third of my life. [I] left it all on the field for the Red Sox. I played as hard as I could. I'm definitely proud of my time over there. I think of the championships, the two championships that come to mind. Yeah, I'm excited for tonight's game."

Unlike some previous rivalry switchovers, there was no acrimony or bitterness that surrounded Ellsbury's departure.

He got an offer (seven years, $153 million) from the Yankees he couldn't pass up, and the Red Sox, with a young center fielder on the way in Jackie Bradley Jr., were prepared to move on.

Ellsbury looks forward to receiving his new piece of jewelry, one he's already heard rave reviews about.

"I got a few messages from the guys congratulating me on the ring," Ellsbury said. "They said it was awesome -- exact words. But yeah, they were excited, I got a few messages from them when they went to the White House. Basically let me know, 'Hey, you're a part of this, and congratulations."'

The even-keeled Ellsbury has blended in well with the Yankees, taking a .364 average into Thursday's game.

"Yeah, they welcomed me with open arms from the get-go," Ellsbury said. "There really weren't any jabs or jokes or anything like that. When I signed, I got some phone calls. [Mark] Teixeira was one that called me, Derek [Jeter] was a person that called me. He said, 'You're going to enjoy it here, it's a first-class organization. It's a special place to play.'

"From then on, I had the highest expectations, and they've met them and exceeded them. Like I said, it's a world-class organization. Winning is the most important thing, and that was one of the biggest reasons I signed over here was a chance to win a championship and a chance to get to the playoffs each and every year."

When Ellsbury steps in for his first at-bat on Thursday, he will face a pitcher in Clay Buchholz whom he spent virtually his entire career with, from the Minor Leagues on up.

"You know I've never faced Buch before," Ellsbury said. "Yeah, I came up with him, he was my first roommate in [Class A] Lowell. I mean, he'll be a friend of mine for life, regardless of what jersey he has on or what I have on."

There will be another day for Ellsbury to circle on April 22, when the Yankees make their first visit to Fenway Park. In 2006, Johnny Damon, a hero for the '04 Sox, was treated harshly not just in his first game back, but for years to come.

Ellsbury is prepared for whatever the reaction winds up being.

"Well, I think that's the reason I love this rivalry," Ellsbury said. "The passion that the fans have. I haven't thought about it too much, just because whatever reception I receive will be out of my hands. But like I mentioned numerous times, I gave the organization everything I had. Every time I stepped on that field, I gave them 100 percent. I left it out there, and I know the time I was there, they respected that, they liked the way I played, the way I went about my business. We'll see what happens. I'm sure it will be two different receptions from tonight's game to when I head back to Boston."

Joe Girardi has found quickly that Ellsbury is an easy guy to manage.

"He comes to play every day. He's prepared every day. He knows what he wants to do," the manager said. "We had the little [health] hiccup in Spring Training, but he really hasn't missed any time, and he's been easy to manage."

Meanwhile, Farrell is now forced to try to stop Ellsbury.

"The first thing is keep him off the bases," Farrell said. "He can create some disruption for the pitcher on the mound, maybe split the focus and the attention of the pitcher in a given moment. It's a luxury to have that ability to gain 90 feet without giving up an out or having to put a hit-and-run on. He can create some havoc. He's a dynamic player. When he's been on the field, he's been an elite performer."

While some players over the years have been so entrenched in the rivalry they couldn't imagine switching sides, Ellsbury sounded to be completely at peace with it.

"Well, I definitely feel blessed," said Ellsbury. "If, as a young kid, you were to tell me I played for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, I'd say that's pretty special. I definitely look at the time in Boston as the first part of my career. And with the New York Yankees, this is the second part of my career. I couldn't ask for two better organizations to play for, and I'm excited for this opportunity this year and for the future."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.

Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury