A.J. Ellis might be the best Dodger player to check in with on the state of the team.
He takes a big-picture view of things anyway, but he’s also in an ideal position. As the starting catcher, he spends roughly equal time with the pitchers and hitters. We caught up with Ellis to check on some of the key themes rippling through Dodgers camp, the trip to Australia, the state of bad blood with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Clayton Kershaw’s new contract, among other topics.
Q. You guys open the exhibition season tomorrow against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team you brawled with last season. How would you describe the state of relations between the two NL West rivals in the wake of Pool-gate and everything else?
A. It’s 2014. I think the season’s turned over, so it’s going to be played on the field. What you have is two teams that really play hard. They’ve taken on the personalities of their managers. They’re both hard-nosed, play to win the game, protect their teammates type guys. We just know we’re in for a battle every time we get ready to play the Diamondbacks. They play us hard every time and we respect the way they play. We know they’re going to protect their guys and we’re going to protect ours.
Q. In November, both teams sent goodwill contingents to Australia in advance of the opening series there next month. Arizona sent Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin. You were the lone Dodgers player, prompting Kirk Gibson to say, “Who’s the other team got down there? Are they too (expletive) good? Honestly,” according to the Arizona Republic. Did that bother you?
A. It’s funny. We had a PR presentation today about not responding quickly when things happen. I think it was a blessing for me that I was in Australia when that happened and I didn’t have Internet access and I didn’t immediately go on my Twitter feed. The more I thought about it and stuff, it was just probably taken a little bit out of context. I’m just honored the Dodgers thought highly enough of me to send me.
Q. Are you the only guy in this clubhouse who has been to Australia?
A. Brian [Wilson] has been a couple times, for holiday.
Q. Of course he has. Have you talked to the guys about what the long flight is like and how it could affect the team’s bodies for playing games and then returning?
A. Some guys have asked and I’ve tried to give a little insight, alleviate any concerns they may have. Fortunately, MLB and the Dodgers put us in first class. You can get pretty comfortable. You sleep for most of the trip, watch some movies the rest of the time and move around a little just to keep moving. It’s just one of those things we have to do.
A. Baseball players, we’re some of the most routine-oriented people out there. It’s going to be tough for guys who are very dedicated to that, but the way I looked at it, too, is that one of the greatest things about being a major-league baseball player is the life experiences you get. The people you get to play with from all over the world, from Korea and Cuba and Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, people I would have never met before. It’s also experiences like getting to travel to Australia, two years ago getting to travel to China. I feel fortunate and I feel like we should all feel really excited about embracing one of the perks.
Q. What did you think, specifically, about Zack’s comment about having “zero excitement” for going to pitch in Australia?
A. I love how Zack is himself. I love how Zack is very honest. When I get off an airplane in a city and I’m looking for somebody to have a meal with, I’m looking for Zack because it’s going to be a great conversation, he’s going to tell you exactly how it feels and it’s going to be a great time. He thinks outside the box. Zack is definitely a guy who sticks to his routine and I can definitely see how this is going to take him out of his comfort zone a little bit, but if he’s one of the guys picked to throw in Australia, he’s also one of the most competitive, professional people I’ve ever been around. So, he’s going to take the mound with one goal in mind, to win the game. We’ll have to manage all the logistics and adjustments to his routine.
Q. Knowing Clayton Kershaw as well as you do, how do you feel his new seven-year, $215 million contract will affect him?
A. I think it’s going to affect a lot. The main thing it’s going to affect is the amount of people he’s going to help out. It’s not going to change him at all personality wise. He and his wife are just amazing philanthropists who just have a passion for people. This is going to allow them to impact the lives of so many more people. Clayton is still driven by one things, a perfect season – 34-0 when he pitches and a World Series championship. Maybe after a season like that, which we all know is near impossible, we can talk about him changing how he is on the field. He’s not going to change.
Q. The big deal won’t take away his hunger?
A. It’s going to take away my hunger, because he’s going to be picking up every meal on the road now. Clayton’s from such a background of such deep faith, he knows this is just something he can use to help other people. He’s very simple, not a guy who’s big into accumulating things or into the life of luxury. It’s about being comfortable, but also about helping other people.