Leaving on top of his game
Jeff Ellsworth leaving international softball as a world-class talent
Jeff Ellsworth has had a remarkable softball career.
At 37 years old, the St. Lawrence native wasn't just filling a roster spot on Team Canada this summer. At the end of his international playing career, Ellsworth played a prominent role. He hit in the middle of the order and played right field.
He came up with big home runs, smashed line drives for extra-base hits and dropped down bunts to pressure the defence.
He crashed into fences and made multiple key plays in the outfield.
During a two-week stretch this month, Ellsworth helped Canada win gold medals at the International Softball Federation world championship in Saskatoon and the Pan American Games in Ajax, Ont.
He has won national titles in Canada and the United States and the International Softball Congress championship, completing the set of five gold medals. It didn't happen overnight. Ellsworth started playing softball when he was five years old. Some of his first coaches included his parents, Melvin and Sheila.
As he got older, Ellsworth didn't always make teams he tried out for. When he didn't, it helped fuel his desire to improve.
‘It's not a mistake the things he's done,’ Charlottetown Fawcetts first baseman Mark Arsenault said. ‘ He busted his butt. . . He was a pro athlete playing an amateur sport.’
Ellsworth received good advice during his first national team tryout.
Before he left the Island his father told him just to be himself. If it was good enough, great, if not, at least he had his shot.
Once in Waterloo, Ont., with 19 of the best players in the country, Ellsworth was nervous.
He struck out on three pitches in his first atbat.
‘One of the veterans pulled me aside and said, 'Look, just breathe.' That's all (Ryan Wolfe) said and then walked away and everything calmed down from there,’ Ellsworth recently recalled.
Ellsworth is a vocal guy, who leads by example. He gives teammates confidence because they know how good the guy sitting on their bench is.
It's not luck when he turns on a pitch and drives it more than 300 feet.
He's got great hand-eye co-ordination, bat speed and is a student of the game. He studies pitchers' and catchers' tendencies and looks for the slightest irregularities that might help tip what a particular pitch will be.
Ellsworth is one of the best players in the world and his services are in high demand.
He has played international club ball and often was called to play for some of the best teams at the Canadian championships. His first choice was always to play for an Island team, but when there was a chance a local team might not attend, Ellsworth was quickly snapped up.
Ellsworth brings experience and leadership to teams. They are hard qualities to quantify, but any successful squad has them.
‘He's the absolute clutch hitter,’ said coach John Hill.
While some players don't like pressure situations, Ellsworth seemed to thrive on them.
Ellsworth has commitments with a club team this summer and to another love – coaching.
He is the head coach with the Scotiabank Reds under-18 girls team and the Island's 2017 Canada Games squad.
The Reds were at the airport Sunday to welcome Ellsworth home from Ontario.
It was evident the respect and care they have for Ellsworth, for what he has taught them and the time he has committed to making them better players.
There are two softball players in the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. They are Hubert (Sock) MacDonald and Cecil MacPhail. We expect the list will grow in a few years' time when Ellsworth's required five-year wait time expires.