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LEEInks list: Boston sports position changes

05.26.10 at 7:31 am ET
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Kevin Youkilis made a smooth transition from third base to first, while Jacoby Ellsbury's position change from center field to left didn't last. (AP)

Kevin Youkilis (front) made a smooth transition from third base to first, while Jacoby Ellsbury's position change from center field to left didn't last. (AP)

When you’re a kid playing sports, positions aren’t fixed. You can play anywhere you like and usually get a taste of every position. When you’re a professional athlete, however, you’re typically locked in to a spot on the field, court or ice and are defined by your position.

Sometimes, players seem born to play a certain position, like quarterback in football or point guard in basketball. On other occasions, it takes time for players to figure out what position they will be in for their professional career. That’s why players now and then change positions, with necessity and age seeming to be the two most significant factors.

Just this week, we learned that the Red Sox are moving Jacoby Ellsbury back to center field, which he feels is his natural position, after he began the season in left because of the arrival of Mike Cameron. In light of that news, here is a list of 10 significant positional changes in Boston sports history.

10. Julian Edelman

Edelman was a college quarterback and three-year starter at Kent State before he was drafted by the Patriots. Even though he was under center, Edelman showcased his ability to do a little bit of everything on the field. In his senior season, he rushed for 1,551 yards on 215 attempts and scored 13 touchdowns. Edelman also punted four times and was on the punt coverage team. When the Patriots drafted Edelman, they turned him into a slot wide receiver, and he caught 37 passes for 359 yards and one touchdown in his rookie season.

9. Kevin Youkilis

After the Red Sox drafted Youkilis in the eighth round of the MLB draft, he split his time between third and first base in the minor leagues. When Youkilis was called up to the majors, he played mostly at third until 2006, when he became a regular first baseman because of the team’s acquisition of Mike Lowell. The move worked out, to say the least, as he earned a Gold Glove in 2007 and set baseball’s all-time record for most consecutive errorless games at first base in 2008 with 238.

8. Rico Petrocelli

Petrocelli was one of the best shortstops in Red Sox history, doing it both with his bat and his glove. From 1965 to 1970, he was a two-time All-Star, twice leading the league shortstops in fielding percentage and hitting 40 home runs in 1969. In 1971, Petrocelli moved over to third base when Boston acquired Hall of Famer shortstop Luis Aparicio, who was on the back end of his career. At his new position, Petrocelli continued to flash the glove and led all third baseman that season in fielding percentage. He retired in 1976 and was inducted to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.

7. Dee Brown

Most remembered for his winning no-look dunk in NBA slam dunk contest in 1991, Brown never reached the high ceiling many believed he had. Drafted with the No. 19 pick by the Celtics, he averaged 8.2 points in his first season and was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Team. The C’s, however, attempted to convert Brown to a point guard because they felt he was too small (6-foot-1) to be a shooting guard, his college position. The position change never took and Brown was unable to break through to stardom.

6. Dustin Pedroia

Always told he was too small to play baseball, Pedroia was a shortstop with a big swing at Arizona State. When the Red Sox made him the regular second baseman in 2007, Pedroia struggled early on with a .172 average on May 1. While Pedroia was fighting to keep his starting role, his bat caught on fire and he finished with a .317 average for the season, earning him the AL Rookie of the Year award. Pedroia continued his success at second in 2008 with the AL MVP award and finally won the Gold Glove in 2009 with his stellar defense.

5. Jonathan Papelbon

Watching Papelbon’s intensity on the mound when he comes in to finish games, it seems implausible that he was ever anything but a closer. But that was the case when he was a starting pitcher in the minor leagues and when he made his major league debut in 2005. The Red Sox were hoping that he would develop into a frontline starter and head the rotation for years to come. Instead, Papelbon replaced closer Keith Foulke in 2006 and had a dominant season with 35 saves to give Boston a shutdown pitcher at the end of games.

4. John Valentin

Valentin was a fan favorite in Boston with his solid fielding at shortstop and timely hitting. After having his best season in 1995 and helping Boston to its first division title since 1990, Valentin begrudgingly moved from shortstop to second base (and eventually to third base) to make room for Nomar Garciaparra in 1997. After the position change, Valentin played four more seasons in Boston and one in New York before retiring. His move from shortstop, however, opened up an opportunity for Garciaparra to play and develop into a star in Boston.

3. Carl Yastrzemski

One of the most prolific hitters in Red Sox history, Yastrzemski signed with the Sox after playing shortstop at Notre Dame, and he remained in the infield during his first year in the Sox’ minor league system. But with Ted Williams retiring, the Sox turned Yaz into a left fielder, which is where he made a name for himself. He had his best season in 1967 when he led the Red Sox to the American League pennant while winning the Triple Crown, earning MVP honors in the process. Starting in 1970, the 18-time All-Star began spending a lot of time at first base, although he frequently returned to left field. Until his last couple of seasons, when he was primarily a designated hitter, Yaz bounced between left field and first base.

2. Gino Cappelletti

Cappelletti, who played quarterback at Minnesota, was the type of player Bill Belichick would love to have on the Patriots now. Back when they were the Boston Patriots, Cappelletti was a dynamic wide receiver and place kicker. He led the American Football League in scoring five times and was the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer with 1,130 points — consisting of 42 touchdowns, 176 field goals, 342 PATs and four two-point conversions — from 1960 to 1970 (Adam Vinatieri has since passed him for the No. 1 spot). Cappelletti even returned punts and kickoffs and played defensive back during his professional career, making him one of the most versatile players in Patriots history.

1. Babe Ruth

The most significant positional change in Boston history, as well as in sports history, was Ruth switching from a starting pitcher to a right fielder. Though he still batted as a pitcher, Ruth didn’t enjoy his great success until he transitioned to a full-time outfielder in 1918 and 1919 (he did continue to pitch as well, but not as often). The Red Sox, however, didn’t reap the full rewards of Ruth’s ability at the plate. His development into one of the best hitters in baseball history became complete in New York, after the Sox sold him to the Yankees before the 1920 season. Ruth’s name made most Red Sox fans cringe as the “Curse of the Bambino” hovered over Boston until 2004. After winning two World Series this past decade, the Red Sox can rest easy about not making the position switch earlier.

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