Three days in the life of Yunel Escobar: On Saturday he didn’t swing on a hit-and-run and told inquiring reporters: “Talk to me when I get three hits.” On Sunday he got three hits and declined to speak. On Monday he was named the National League’s player of the week and did, with coach Chino Cadahia translating, speak with reporters and come across as a nice enough guy.
And that’s Escobar. (Or, as Cadahia calls him, “Esky.”) He makes you want to curse, and then he makes you believe he is, as Chipper Jones said Tuesday, both “an All-Star shortstop in the making” and “a great kid.”
Is this 26-year-old with the streaks in his hair a typical buttoned-down Braves? Well, no. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth keeping. Chipper again: “You do not want to get down on Yunel Escobar. He’s way too good.”
His mistakes and excesses, voluminously chronicled, aren’t solely a function of youth. There’s also a cultural disconnect. He’s Cuban, and he speaks only a bit of English. (He’s much better at reading English.) On Monday, according to Cadahia, Escobar told reporters “99 percent of his problems are due to language.”
Cadahia: “He’s got to continue to try and [improve his English] … But he has put tremendous effort into it. He’s come a long way … A lot of the stuff that happened probably wouldn’t have happened [if Escobar was fluent in English]. Reporters are hesitant to approach him.”
Have we in the English-speaking media been unfair to Escobar?
Cadahia: “That’s not for me to answer. There is a distance between him and the press. But he talked to Carroll Rogers [of the AJC] and Mark Bowman [of MLB.com] yesterday, and I saw that as a bridge over that distance.”
Said bullpen coach Eddie Perez: “If he could speak English, it’d be a way different story. He likes to talk about the game … But sometimes he doesn’t say things [on the field] because he doesn’t know how to say them.”
Asked if he communicates with his partner on the left side of the infield, Jones said, “Not much.” Think about that. Think how it would be if you were plopped down on a soccer pitch in Milan, and asked to coordinate the back four without knowing a word of Italian beyond “mamma” and “mia.”
Chipper: “He can play, but sometimes the antics that come along with that rub people the wrong way. But that’s the way Cuban players are. They play with a flair.”
Cadahia: “He’s always whistled. He’s always clapped his hands when he’s gotten a game-winning hit. He shows his emotions. But we’ve cut that down a lot over the years we’ve had him.”
It’s believed Escobar and his manager don’t get along. Not true, Bobby Cox said. “He’s a real good kid. I want him to be the best shortstop in the National League. I try to make players better.”
Cadahia: “I know for a fact he’s not a bad guy … He’ll say, ‘Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Do I regret them? Absolutely.’ But he has learned from them and is better for it.”
After batting practice Tuesday, Escobar responded to this question: Is it frustrating when you see yourself portrayed in a negative light?
Escobar (via Cadahia): “I don’t believe I’m that person. People can’t judge someone until they know you. The thing that frustrates me is that my mother [who lives in Miami] hears what people say.”
The belief here is that Escobar is not nearly a lost cause. The belief here is that, if the Braves can just be patient, we’ll soon hear only good things about Esky.