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Boston's Favorite Rookie Is a Navajo Hero

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Boston's Favorite Rookie Is a Navajo Hero


Boston's Favorite Rookie Is a Navajo Hero

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

The Boston Red Sox lead the World Series two games to none. And they seem to be winning in all departments. In the opener against the Colorado Rockies, it was a 13-run offensive onslaught. In last night's two-to-one win, it was timely hitting. And there was brilliant pitching on both nights. One of the star Red Sox players is a rookie center fielder. And he's helping redefine baseball's uncomfortable relationship with Native American culture.

NPR's Tom Goldman Reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Think baseball and Native Americans, and what comes to mind? That grinning, headdressed Chief Wahoo mascot for the Cleveland Indians? Or perhaps it's Ted Turner and, gasp, Jane Fonda doing the tomahawk chop at Atlanta Braves games in the 1990s? Now, those angered by years of demeaning stereotypes have a not-so-secret weapon. He's in the starting lineup for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Unidentified Announcer: And tonight, the center fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury.

GOLDMAN: Twenty-four-year-old rookie Jacoby Ellsbury has been batting at the bottom of the order. But the reception he has been getting at Fenway Park rivals the guys at the top. He's the first Major League player of Navajo descent. But Ellsbury is treated more like a rock star than a stereotype-busting athlete. Jacoby, will you Ells-marry me, reads one sign.

Twenty-one-year-old Katie Aguilar(ph) shows off the snug, number 46 Ellsbury jersey she got yesterday morning. It was one of the last ones available at a shop in Burlington, Vermont.

Ms. KATIE AGUILAR (Baseball Fan): Yeah, he only had a few left. He's like, I only have a few large kids' left. If you want one, you can have it, but I won't have anymore until Monday. And I was like, I will take it. I don't care if I have to squeeze into it. It's kids'. I'll take it.

GOLDMAN: Ellsbury has been called the best Boston prospect since all-star shortstop Nomar Garciappara. Aguilar is no scout, but she knows a good player when she sees one.

Ms. AGUILAR: I'm so amazed by his speed and just his - the way he is so calm when he's up to bat. You wouldn't think he was a rookie at all. You'd think that he'd have so much experience.

GOLDMAN: He has, and not like most ballplayers. Ellsbury was born on a reservation in Oregon. His mom is Navajo, his dad, white. When Ellsbury was about six, his family moved off the reservation to the central Oregon town of Madras. That move probably helped him succeed, where other talented native athletes who stay on reservations often fail.

That's according to Tom Arviso Jr., who runs the Navajo Times newspaper on the reservation in Arizona.

Mr. TOM ARVISO Jr. (Navajo Times): The fact that he's able to be outside the reservation and be in a society where there's more opportunities to do things. I'm sure he had more opportunities to play baseball in better facilities, more frequent contact with people of other cultures. So he was comfortable.

GOLDMAN: Ellsbury's comfort level was evident last night as he calmly fieldeds questions in the cramped Fenway Park clubhouse. His life may be one of assimilation, first in Madras, now in Major League Baseball, but he says he takes his cultural heritage seriously. Ellsbury can't speak Navajo - his mom is teaching him - but he says he can understand the language. And he understands his emerging role as a Native American role model.

Mr. JACOBY ELLSBURY (Center Fielder, Boston Red Sox): You know, it's very important. You know, I didn't necessarily have too many, you know, Native American role models when I was growing up, you know, showing that it is possible. And, you know, once you got that, once you, you know, feel that you can succeed, you know, you have the tools to, I think, you know, you'll be seeing a lot more Native Americans, you know, in college and, you know, hopefully, at the professional level.

GOLDMAN: Ellsbury says he's been getting e-mails of support from throughout Indian country, not just the Navajo nation. Each appearance in the World Series brings more attention. In the fourth inning of last night's game, Ellsbury was the first player in the series to successfully steal a base. Thanks to Taco Bell's Steal a Base, Steal a Taco promotion, everyone in America can get a free Beef Crunchy Taco. In one blazing moment, Jacoby Ellsbury became the man who fed millions. It may sound silly, but it sure beats Chief Wahoo.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Boston.

BLOCK: During the Jacoby Ellsbury's fourth inning at bat last night, this vaguely Native American rhythm could be heard emanating from the direction of the Red Sox bullpen.

(Soundbite of Red Sox drums corps)

BLOCK: Baseball players have a history of goofiness to take the edge of, crazy handshakes, group haircuts.

Well, this year, the Red Sox relieve pitchers by their time before appearances in a fantasy pirate ship. They called their bullpen, the Black Pearl. Long time reliever Mike Timlin is called Admiral Timlin. They have their own stuffed parrot mascot named Parlay, who was recently kidnapped. And for some reason, they've worked themselves into a fairly decent drum section, banging water bottles together, playing with sticks on the metal roof or the bullpen catchers' shin guards.

You can listen for the so-called Manny Delcarmen Band during game three tomorrow night in Denver. They traditionally start their performance around the fourth inning.

Unidentified Announcer: They have some new members down in the drum corps at the bullpen for the Red Sox. I wonder if Beckett's in on that.

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