Former Austin Peay baseball star and current Los Angeles Dodgers catcher, A.J. Ellis, was guest speaker at the Clarksville Opening Pitch Banquet, Monday night.
However, before he spoke to the crowd gathered at the Hilldale Baptist Family Life Center, he swung by to make a visit to his alma mater and to speak with the Governors baseball team, congratulating on their back-to-back OVC championships and offering advice of persistence and patience as they prepare for the 2013 season.
No one understands more about patience and perseverance than the Lexington, Ky., native. After leaving APSU as its all-time hits leader (broken last season by Greg Bachman), the four-time first-team All-OVC selection was chosen in the 18th round of the 2003 draft by the Dodgers. He then spent the next two seasons as a back-up to Russell Martin, who later became the Dodgers All-Star catcher before moving to the New York Yankees and not the Pittsburgh Pirates. The careers of minor league back-up catchers usually are short-lived, but Ellis beat those incredible odds.
Fast forward to 2012. New Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told Ellis in spring training he would be the starting catcher. He responded by catching 133 games while hitting .270 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs.
Now he will head to 2013 as the catcher of one of baseball's best pitching staffs. Ace Clayton Kershaw is a former Cy Young Award winner. Recent free agent signed Zach Greinke is as well. Josh Beckett was World Series MVP in 2003 and American League Championship Series MVP in 2007. Throw in Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano and the Dodgers are at least six-deep in their rotation.
Ellis is one of four former Governors who pitched in the major leagues last season-Shawn Kelley and George Sherrill both pitched with Seattle last season (Sherrill underwent elbow surgery early last season and is now with Kansas City) and Matt Reynolds pitched for Colorado-he was traded to Arizona in the offseason.
APSU sports information sat down with Ellis for Part 1 of a three-part interview as the Dodgers catcher anxiously awaits the start of 2013 spring training and the upcoming season.