All-Star trip has special meaning

PHOENIX -- The red practice jersey Jacoby Ellsbury took home with him as a souvenir from his first All-Star Game has "American" emblazoned across his chest.

Just more than 160 miles to the west, where the Colorado River carves its course between Arizona and California, a flag designed more than 30 years ago by his mother, Margie, flies over the place where Jacoby Ellsbury is celebrated for being a Native American.

"Jacoby has a huge following through all of Indian country,'' Dennis Welsh said. "He is an inspiration for all tribes.''

Welsh is treasurer for the Colorado River Indian Tribes -- the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo -- who share 300,000 acres of a reservation that straddles both sides of the mighty river. Jacoby Ellsbury, whose grandmother on his mother's side raised sheep and weaved rugs, is Navajo. He is a registered member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, and for the better part of two years, when he was in the sixth and seventh grades, he lived on the reservation, his mother taking her four sons home to care for their ailing grandmother.

Welsh said he was raised in the same cluster of apartments -- the 50 Homes Housing Projects in Poston, Ariz. -- where Ellsbury lived when he was here.

"We're going to name a baseball field after him,'' said Welsh, though he admitted that after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, the tribe had plans to put up a sign heralding their reservation as the "Home of Jacoby Ellsbury" but those plans have yet to come to fruition.

So far, Margie McCabe's flag is the only symbol connecting Ellsbury to this place. As a schoolgirl, she won a contest to design the flag. The brown color on the flag represents the earth. Blue is for water, and the river that gives life to the earth. The orange rays depict the eternal rising and setting of the sun on the earth and water. There are four feathers, one for each tribe.

But no sign is necessary to remind the kids at Rena Van Fleet's summer camp of their connection to Jacoby.

"They're all excited he made the All-Star team,'' she said Tuesday.

Van Fleet is the Tribes' recreation director. Her son, Jermaine, played with Ellsbury when they were boys.

"Our camp is not so much a sports camp as it is about team building,'' she said, "where our goal is to change negative attitudes to positive attitudes. We use [Jacoby] a lot. His story is like every one of these kids' dreams. You see him, and we tell the kids he lived here and is just like any other person, but that hard work pays off. We try to help these kids realize their dreams, too.

"These kids might be fans of many different teams, but they all support Jacoby,'' she said.

Ellsbury spent most of his childhood in Madras, Ore., where his father, Jim, works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a forester and Margie works as an early intervention/special education specialist at the nearby Warm Springs Indian Reservation. No one had a greater impact on his development as a player, he said, than his father.

"My dad taught me the importance of hard work,'' he said here this week. "He taught me the game of baseball. He's the one who first built a tee for me to hit, a tee out of circular posterboard.''

Ellsbury played baseball when he was on the reservation, but both Welsh and Van Fleet thought for sure that if he was going to star in sports, it would be as a basketball player.

"I was just talking to one of his old coaches, Dale Kruse,'' Welsh said, "and he was telling me how Jacoby would come in and practice his free throws, while the other kids would be playing around, and what a great work ethic he had."

Ellsbury loved basketball, and he played soccer, too. But on a baseball field, he was something to behold. He was never caught stealing a base in high school. He barely remembers ever having to slide. No high school catcher was a match for his speed.

Welsh said the Tribes helped to supplement Ellsbury's scholarship to play baseball at Oregon State, which is where he was Pac-10 co-Player of the Year when the Red Sox drafted him in the first round in 2005.

And now, they gather to watch Ellsbury on TV, whether it's at the tribal casino, in restaurants that have a satellite dish, or in the home of a relative such as Esther McCabe, Margie's sister. She works in the word-processing department of the Tribes' executive offices but on Tuesday was absent from work to watch her nephew play at Chase Field. Jim and Margie were at the game, too, as well as his three brothers, as Ellsbury left a dozen tickets for family and friends overjoyed to watch the first Navajo ever to play in the big leagues. The first to be able to call himself an All-Star.

How much do you think it mattered, in the end, that Ellsbury struck out in his only two at-bats Tuesday night? In a place where dreams are hard-won and easily lost, they celebrated Ellsbury as their native treasure. Earth, sun and water.

"This was a dream of mine as a little kid,'' he said, "but for it to be a reality is exciting.

"It's exciting for me be out here, to come back," he said. "I still keep in touch with some of these people. It's something I'm very proud of. I'm very proud to be a Native American.''

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.