Connect to Purpose: Sumner Ellis
The last of the sun rays cast down from the sky on a hot and humid summer evening, as over seven thousand fans rapidly pour into the stands at Hadlock Field. An uproar of cheering occurs as a tall, lean figure emerges from the outfield wall, and takes long strides across the grass.
Wearing a fitted navy blue jersey with the words Sea Dogs displayed across the chest in red stitching, the Boston Red Sox right-handed ace, Chris Sale, makes his way to the dugout. Following closely behind Sale is his newly appointed personal assistant, Sumner Ellis.
A resident of South Portland, Sumner is twenty-six years old and became a member of the Sea Dogs staff shortly after meeting Clubhouse Manager, Mike Coziahr, at a job fair hosted at the ballpark in March of 2017.
“I remember he was extremely shy and did not really look up at me when we initially met,” Coziahr said. “But I knew right away there was something special about him and immediately hired him.”
At a young age, Sumner was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), causing him to process spoken language and instruction differently. In grade school he was given extra assistance to help break down and understand material, and usually needed support when introducing himself to his peers.
After graduating high school in 2016, Sumner and his family were introduced into a vocational rehabilitation services program through Maine Medical Center. The program is paired with the Maine Department of Labor, and was designed to help younger individuals with disabilities gain new skills through a work placement or job shadow. This new opportunity introduced him to Hilary Roberts, a former employment specialist for the program.
During her time with Maine Medical, Hilary was assigned to assist Sumner as a job coach with the ultimate goal of helping him advance to earning full-time employment with benefits.
“I had just started working there when I was introduced to Sumner, and knew he had interests in sports,” Roberts said. “We met Mike, he gave us a tour of the clubhouse and was really open about the idea of Sumner getting to learn new skills under his watchful eye.”
About a week before the Sea Dogs season started, Mike brought Sumner and Hilary into the clubhouse for an overview of tasks and expectations, with the second game of the season marking his official day on the job. To start, Sumner learned how to fold towels and vacuum, proving to hold his own very quickly.
“He took to everything right away and progressed each time he came in, so Hilary only had to accompany him for less than a week,” Coziahr said. “Plus, he was always really happy to be there and eager to learn as much as possible.”
While his hands-on skills were improving at an accelerated pace, Sumner still struggled with introducing himself to others. He typically kept to himself by talking or singing while working, until he caught the eye of former Sea Dogs Strength Coach, Chris Messina.
Messina was a member of the Sea Dogs staff during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and he immediately took to Sumner’s humor and personality after noticing him in the clubhouse.
“I would go in early to workout and Sumner would be in there singing or talking aloud and I thought he was really funny,” Messina said. “Our relationship grew organically as I started talking to him, and interacting with him always put me in the best mood.”
From there, Sumner was encouraged to get more acquainted with the athletes and other staff members. He began to come out of his shell as time went on, and his kindness and positivity continued to spread like wildfire throughout the facility.
At the conclusion of the season, Sumner was included in an intimate team awards ceremony that was held in the clubhouse. During the ceremony, he received a heartfelt speech by Messina and was given a team bat in front of his parents, friends, members of the organizations front office staff and owners. Additionally he was bestowed the nickname: Summer “The G.O.A.T, A Savage Beast” Ellis.
“I wanted everyone to know how important he was to the team with all the work he did behind the scenes,” Messina said. “But most importantly, I wanted him to know what he meant to me and how everyday started off as a good one when he was present.”
Though the players and staff had to leave for the offseason, they were thrilled to know it was not the last they would see of Sumner.
Sumner returned for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and managed to put smiles onto the faces of more staff members and athletes, including Tim Tebow and Dustin Pedroia. Sumner met Tebow while he was a member of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets, while Pedroia introduced himself to Sumner while he was in Portland on a rehab assignment for Boston.
“Those guys were really cool, I knew exactly who they were,” Sumner said. “It was fun to get to meet them and have them know my name.”
However, the biggest relationship Sumner formed was with one of Boston’s big-name pitchers, Chris Sale.
Sale was sent to Portland on a rehab assignment while recovering from Tommy John surgery in late July of the 2021 season, which was also around the time Sumner returned to working in the clubhouse after covid restrictions were lifted. During Covid, Sumner secured a job at Market Basket to continue working, but longed to get back to the clubhouse.
“I worked it out and brought Sumner in when I could,” Coziahr said. “His first day back happened to also be Chris Sale’s first day in Portland on a rehab assignment to recover from Tommy John surgery.”
As soon as Sale stepped into the clubhouse, the two hit it off right away. After their initial meeting, Sale knew he wanted Sumner there for every minute of his time with the Sea Dogs.
Coziahr was able to work it out with Sumner’s parents and manager at Market Basket to make sure he was there when Sale arrived at the ballpark.
“Sumner was never shy around me from the get-go and I instantly gravitated toward him,” Sale said. “He held great conversations, asked me questions and always put me in the best mood.”
While working with Sale, Sumner took care of everything he needed including making sure he had fresh towels, his clothes were neatly put away, and his equipment was ready to use.
Additionally, Sale made sure Sumner was able to escort him onto the field during his starts.
“Walking out with Chris made me feel really important, like I am somebody,” Sumner said. “I felt really good and liked being able to help him.”
Sale stayed in Portland for an entire homestand, getting two starts before making his way to Boston’s Triple-A affiliate, the Worcester Red Sox.
The next year, Sale returned for another rehab start with the Sea Dogs in late June. As expected, it was immediately requested that Sumner be there for his return.
“I always thoroughly enjoy my time in Portland, and it has a lot to do with Sumner being there,” Sale said. “You can tell he really enjoys his job and I really appreciate that he does anything and everything for me.”
Today, Sumner remains a morning clubhouse assistant and continues to impress everyone with the progress he has made over the past few seasons. He never fails to walk into the clubhouse with pride wearing his Sea Dogs polo, a bow tie, and chain with a bedazzled goat charm around his neck.
Previous members of the Sea Dogs staff continue to keep up with Sumner either over social media or frequently asking Mike how he is doing.
“Even though I am not in Portland I look at his Instagram when I need a reason to smile,” Messina said. “It's like he has superpowers because with no effort he can turn anyone's bad day into a great day, he’s a gift to humanity.”
After leaving Maine Medical, Hilary has since moved into a special education role for an elementary school, but also keeps tabs on Sumner and his accomplishments.
She touches on how important it is for everyone to be able to have a place to learn, grow, and gain the necessary life skills to be successful.
“The kids in the rehabilitation programs all have dreams and it usually is incredibly difficult to find a job that is willing to help them succeed,” Hilary said. “Mike and the Sea Dogs were able to work with Sumner in a way that he could stand on his own and make him happy.”
Addendum by Mike Coziahr
This morning, as I was driving him to his full-time job at Southern Maine Community College, I was reminded of why I like Sumner so much and why I enjoy him around the clubhouse. Sumner does a great job on the towels, and nobody vacuums the floor like he does… But that’s not it.
Sumner is ALWAYS the nicest guy in the room. He has no filter. What he is thinking about, he is talking about in real time. There is nothing going through his mind that is not coming out of his mouth. When you first meet Sumner, it is sometimes difficult to know if he is talking to you, someone else, or himself. Mostly though, Sumner is talking to himself. It is a constant and never-ending conversation that Sumner is having.
Sumner has worked in the clubhouse since 2017 and we have spent many hours together both at work and on day trips to Pawtucket, Worcester, Manchester, and other minor league parks in New England. In all that time, through all the conversations we have shared and all of Sumner’s internal conversations I’ve listened in on, I have never once heard him utter a mean or remotely unkind word about anyone. Not one time... This baffles me, as I know that Sumner’s life is not perfect, that not everyone he encounters is kind to him, he endures many of the same difficulties as everyone else does and more. Yet his attitude and outlook remain unchanged. He is, and always has been, the nicest guy in the room.
Much has been said about Sumner’s ability to change the mood of people having a bad day and I have seen him brighten up very dark and depressed clubhouses with no real intent of effort. It seems to be his nature. Sumner is a great worker. He shows up on time every day and does a good job. But even if he could never make it to work on time, even if I had to refold every single towel and vacuum the floor after he was done, I’d still be happy to have him.
Sumner “the G.O.A.T.” Ellis is without question the best time I’ve ever done in baseball…
Director of Clubhouse Services
Portland Sea Dogs
August 26, 2023