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51s’ Ellis stays grounded

News flash: A.J. Ellis has realistic expectations.

He is among the few minor league ballplayers who don’t dream of All-Star berths and Hall of Fame busts.

The 27-year-old Las Vegas 51s catcher realizes he’s not the next in line of great Los Angeles Dodgers catchers — from Roy Campanella to Mike Piazza to Russell Martin.

In 2004, while playing behind Martin in Single-A Vero Beach, Ellis made those expectations known.

“I told Russ back then that I’d have no problem backing him up in the big leagues for 10 years,” Ellis said before going 0-for-4 with an RBI in the 51s’ 8-4 win over the Portland Beavers on Thursday night at Cashman Field. “If it comes to that, then that’s great.”

51s manager Lorenzo Bundy has a glass-half-full perspective of Ellis’ prospects.

“Yeah, there are the greats, but I think about the others — Steve Yeager, Mike Scioscia, Joe Ferguson. These are guys who fit into that A.J. Ellis mold,” Bundy said. “I hope he’ll forgive me for this, but A.J. Ellis isn’t a Hall of Famer. But he is a major league catcher.”

For now, he is a Triple-A catcher, and a new one at that.

Ellis is in his first season with the 51s, after two years with the Dodgers’ Double-A squad in Jacksonville, Fla. His road to Las Vegas took five seasons, but he never gave up hope.

“You never want to be content with where you’re at,” Ellis said. “When I get to.the point where I’m just wanting to stay in Triple-A, maybe it’s time for me to call it a day.”

That day hasn’t come yet.

Ellis is coming into his own offensively, batting .306 through 34 games with the 51s. But even with the solid start, in a new league in a new city, Ellis hasn’t stopped learning.

“The best thing I’ve learned this year was spending 50 games behind Danny Ardoin, watching him behind the plate, attacking Triple-A hitters,” Ellis said.

Ardoin, 33, called up by the Dodgers on May 20, is in his 14th season of professional baseball, having played 144 games in the majors.

“These are grown men; they’ve been around,” Ellis said. “Some are dreaming of the majors, but some are playing for diaper and milk money.”

Count Ellis among the latter.

Ellis’ wife of nearly three years, Cindy, gave birth to their first child five weeks ago Thursday. She and little Ainsley Ellis moved to Las Vegas on June 5.

“Man, family puts it in perspective,” Ellis said. “I’ve found it out over the last three years — the last five weeks, especially. If I can be an OK baseball player but a great dad, that’s what matters to me.”

Being just “OK” won’t get Ellis to the major leagues, though. And with Martin having a firm grasp of the Dodgers’ starting gig at least for the foreseeable future, Ellis will have to find his own path.

Good thing is, he knows it.

“He knows who he is,” Bundy said. “He looks in the mirror, and I don’t think he sees Mike Piazza or Roy Campanella. He sees A.J. Ellis. And he sees what he’s capable of as a catcher and as a father.”

NOTES — 51s right-hander Jason Johnson (9-3) held Portland to two runs on five hits in six innings to pick up his Pacific Coast League-leading ninth win. … Infielder Terry Tiffee, who was called up to the Dodgers on May 25, cleared waivers Thursday and was activated by the 51s. He went 2-for-5 and scored twice.

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