Yunel Escobar: “I don’t believe I’m that person”

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.”

Yunel Escobar is:

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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.

130 comments Add your comment

[...] As promised (or perhaps threatened), here’s the column on Yunel Escobar. Five people are quoted, included Mr. Escobar [...]

Escobar Rocks

July 21st, 2009
6:49 pm

Great article on my favorite player. He seems like a good kid that just lets his emotions take control sometimes. Personally I hope he is a Brave for a long, long time.

bali smith

July 21st, 2009
6:51 pm

thank you for a very fair and indepth story on Escobar…….. I hope he will mature as he gets older and becomes one of the best shortstops in baseball as an atlanta Brave

Thomas

July 21st, 2009
6:52 pm

this guy can do whatever he wants, he’s that good

All I'm Saying Is...

July 21st, 2009
6:53 pm

“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.”

Why are you even insinuating that ‘lost cause’ was even a possibility? Why would you even say something like that? That is a perfect example of what many of us on this blog are trying to get across to you, Bradley. You should be more judicious when tossing out words like that especially those that don’t even apply for one second to Escobar.

What you should take note of is “People can’t judge someone until they know you.” and you should be ashamed of yourself that it has taken you this long to try and have a conversation with Yunel which obviously was easily facilitated by an accommodating Braves coach acting as a translator.

I’ve spent time on business working in another country and staying in a hotel where I did not know the language well at all and it is extremely frustrating all the time.

Bama Aaron

July 21st, 2009
6:55 pm

Great story Mark. Sounds like some in the media and quite a few fans have given up on Yunel much more than his teammates and coach. We should all back off and let him play. I like the Braves much more with him than I would without him.

mike

July 21st, 2009
6:56 pm

God forbid we have a player with great skills AND a personality. Atlanta fans are boring and they like their players to be boring.
Screw that. Go Escobar! Go Braves!

Bama Sucks

July 21st, 2009
6:56 pm

We need Roy Halladay.

Joe Schmoe

July 21st, 2009
6:57 pm

I am glad he is not the typical “button down” brave, other wise he would just be another Francine or Kelly. We do not need players like that. I want a player that acts like he wants to be on the field, and plays with fire. This club is so dull with boy wonder Boobi as manager, that I am suprised he hasn’t had Wren trade our best player!

LKS

July 21st, 2009
6:58 pm

FINALLY…can the AJC lay off him now. Or at least interview him when something good happens and NOT ONLY the controversial stuff? He is one of the nicest people to his fans. He loves all his fans. Every time I have talked to him he is as nice as can be and will ALWAYS sign autographs unlike some other players.

As your biggest fan Escobar know that we love the way you play and your FIRE!!!

Steven

July 21st, 2009
7:01 pm

Good blog Mark! I believe Escobar is as good as any shortstop in the league. His defense is solid. His hitting is only going to get better with more reps, and he has some intangibles that can really help out a team. I remember how impressed I was when he came up and how he wasn’t afraid to hit in pressure situations, you can’t really teach that. You either have it or you don’t. He and Martin Prado seem to get it. Whereas KJ and Frenchy (later on in his career) didn’t.

Jt

July 21st, 2009
7:04 pm

At this point in his career, the Braves would be danged fools to give up on this kid. He even drives me crazy sometimes, BUT then he does something that shows just how talented he is. He not only drives in runs, he plays great defense. If the Braves feel like they need more offense then they would have to get two offensive weapons in a trade that included Escobar-one to make up for losing his bat and glove and another to add to what they have. I don’t think Wrenn is foolish enough to trade this kid-not at this time.

mike

July 21st, 2009
7:21 pm

Did anyone else just see the double play he just turned? Hell Yeah.

Geoff Frenchcoeur

July 21st, 2009
7:22 pm

Great little write – up Mark! Now, let this thing die before it becomes a distraction.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
7:27 pm

Thanks for the kind words, folks.

And that was a splendid double play — Prado made a great stop and Escobar did the catch-jump-and-throw part. And pretty important, too. If the ball gets through, it’s 1-0 San Fran. As it stands, it’s 1-0 Braves. McCann with an RBI double.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
7:29 pm

Yunel and I had a conversation last season, you should know. (Or at least a bit of one.)

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
7:34 pm

Another terrific play: Bare-handed a Matt Downs chopper — it was the only play — and threw him out.

RJ in KS

July 21st, 2009
7:35 pm

I really enjoyed your piece on Yunel. Have you asked him how much less pressure there is on him as he’s batting lower in the order?

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 21st, 2009
7:35 pm

We pick on him becuase he’s ours to pick on…it’s baseball!

Neat bare handed pick by our little possum.

Bama Aaron

July 21st, 2009
7:36 pm

Defense looks good tonight. Yunel has made a couple of outstanding plays already and that stop by Chipper wasn’t easy either!

Bama Aaron

July 21st, 2009
7:44 pm

Mark, I’ve had to watch the last couple of games homes and I have a question about the difference in coverage if you know. Last night on Sportsouth they had this nice camera view of directly over the pitcher giving you the best look at the strike zone. Tonight on Peachtree they’re using an “off the shoulder” view from left center which skews the zone a little.
I had just assumed that camera setup was the same for each of the home games. Do different networks get to choose which camera locations in the stadium they’ll use?

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
7:46 pm

I don’t know the answer, Bama. But I’ll ask someone in TV.

RHR

July 21st, 2009
7:47 pm

Good job by yourself and the beat writers to try and bridge the gap, now for the love of god leave the kid alone. Unless he has a 3 hit night… :D

jcwfalcon

July 21st, 2009
7:54 pm

Its amazing how much these blogs (from the readers) change based on how the wind is blowing.

I dont know if Escobar is a future All Star caliber player or not. I certainly like what I have seen the last couple of days, and I hope he keeps it up. Lets hold off on printing the SI’s with “The Natural” on it.

However, I think I remember Chipper saying Kelly Johnson was a future All Star as well. Not a knock on Chipper or Kelly, but they are what they are, until they are.

The guy who I know has talent but is frustrating to watch this July is McLouth. He seems like an auto out right now…and his batting average is getting down near Frenchys. I thought we had a pretty good lead off man when we stole him from the Bucs.

Daniel

July 21st, 2009
7:56 pm

see.. hers not that guy. End of story. Let him play ball now.

Brett

July 21st, 2009
7:58 pm

Nice article Mark. The kid has lapses of mistakes or lack of concentration but when the game is on the line, he’s as clutch as anyone we have.
I would be terribly disappointed if we were to move him. It’s not easy to find a top 7 fielding SS, to go along with a .300 BA, 17 HR, and 99 RBI’s which is roughly his pace.

I hear alot of Braves fans clammering for the Braves to make a move. If we do, it needs to be a minor move, acquiring a bench bat (however, KJ can fill this role) or a solid bullpen arm.
We’ve made our best moves already getting McLouth and Church, moreover, getting rid of dead weight.

Since the beginning of the year:
McLouth for Shafer
Prado for Johnson
Diaz/Church for Francouer

All huge upgrades and winning 8 of the last 11 is showing it. I think our best chance is the wildcard though. The Phils are going to be tough to catch the way they are playing and they are most likely to upgrade before the deadline.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
8:02 pm

Escobar just had an RBI single. Braves up 4-0.

jcwfalcon

July 21st, 2009
8:03 pm

I agree. No need for moves…
Getting Hudson and Infante back soon will help them compete if they can stay hot.
Its gonna be tuff. The Phillies are good, and VERY hot. And the Wild Card has some stiff competition.
Oh well, win as many as you can. More good nights than bad is always a plus.

TS

July 21st, 2009
8:08 pm

I saw an interview with someone attributing Escobar’s flair to the Cubans, saying watching the Cuban national team is like watching the Harlem Globetrotters. The only problem I have with the way he plays is that he doesn’t have Furcal’s range. But there’s nothing wrong with his bat and his arm is a cannon, so I don’t mind the flair at all.

Lawrenceville Dave

July 21st, 2009
8:13 pm

Has it been discussed that Yunel is no longer flipping his bat after getting hits? I first noticed that last Thursday against the Mets. Yunel is coachable and great player.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
8:21 pm

Hadn’t noticed, Dave. But what I had noticed — that’s what we in radio call a “segue” — that the Braves are destroying the Giants. McCann with a threejack. It’s 8-0 in the fourth.

PHIL

July 21st, 2009
8:28 pm

To me, Escobar doesn’t play with enough “flair.” Chipper can’t talk fast enough to be exciting. When he was in Rome we loved his whistling his enjoyment of the game. Now the pouting stuff needs to go but even our dear Chipper yells at the umpires. I love how he plays the game and I believe him 100% when he says he doesn’t talk much because he doens’t know how to say what he wants. Put yourself in his position.

Gov. Clinton Tyree

July 21st, 2009
8:38 pm

I think one of the big reasons for Escobar’s perceived difficulties with the media is that DOB is not exactly a warm and fuzzy guy and I could see where his problems communicating with the primary Braves beat writer get blown up into a frenzy.

Although I think Escobar is a bit of a hot dog, which isn’t for everyone, my only concern is whether he’s an a$$hole. And my sense is that he’s a cocky Latino but not necessarily an a$$hole. Kind of an innocent until proven guilty thing.

And if he hits .300/.400/.500 with that kind of defense, I don’t much care if he’s an a$$hole either. I don’t have to live with him.

I just live in my camp, eat roadkill and read books.

TommyP

July 21st, 2009
8:43 pm

So he won’t talk to DOB….is that what you’re saying? ‘Cause he has pretty much continued on with the Yunel talk ad nauseam.

Drixie

July 21st, 2009
8:49 pm

Mr. Bradley: I appreciate your article, but is there something we Braves fans don’t know about Escobar? He is young, has a cannon for an arm, plays with passion, and not only can hit for average but can hit in the clutch. And, he’s a righty hitter. Since Bobby Cox is known as a “players’ manager” it seems odd that all of a sudden Yunel is in the doghouse and is being discussed in trade rumors. I have been a Braves fan for most of my life but I do not understand what’s going on here. Yunel already is one of the top shortstops in the league and has a chance to be a very special player. Why is he catching so much flack, and why isn’t Bobby supporting him?

Gov. Clinton Tyree

July 21st, 2009
8:59 pm

For all DOB’s talent, he ain’t the warmest, fuzziest reporter on the beat. I know DOB is a pro, but perhaps there’s a little ambivalence between the two of them.

Chuckles

July 21st, 2009
9:06 pm

It’s funny.

Similar comments were made about a young cuban pitcher 40 some-odd years ago.
“he’s a showboat”, “tough to talk to”, “needs to dial it back”.

Luis Tiant left Cleveland with 21 wins and a 1.6 era one year – 9/20 with a 3.6 the next.
He “wore out his welcome” in an era before free agency. The Red Sox seemed to enjoy his game just fine. Now, Loo-eee is an elder statesman of the game, having won 240 games and is on the verge of perhaps being a Hall of Famer.

Patience, folks. Don’t be Cleveland.

rhynster

July 21st, 2009
9:08 pm

That’s an understatement about DOB. He’s a bit of an ass.

I know he has his fanclub over there, but alot of people will be happy when he’s gone.

Watching The Braves Since '66

July 21st, 2009
9:13 pm

I’d trade Chipper or Bobby Cox before I’d trade Escobar. He’s the best player on this team and being paid the minimum. The Cox era is over. He needs to retire. Jocks don’t know when to quit.

Bill

July 21st, 2009
9:14 pm

Thanks again Mark. Escobar is a keeper, give him more time to learn English and we’ll see what happens.

Ken Stallings

July 21st, 2009
9:24 pm

Insightful, but I cannot help but believe you also represent a media that is somewhat hostile to the young man because he doesn’t grant interviews on demand. Some like Chipper Jones are well known for giving frank interviews in bad times and good times equally. But that doesn’t make Jones a better quality of human being.

“Lefty” Carlton was misquoted once early in his career by a reporter in a way Carlton was convinced was deliberate and malicious. His response as we well know was to eshew the press for the rest of his Hall of Fame career. Some actually speculated his path to the Hall of Fame would be stymied some by reporters irritated by Carlton’s lack of interviews.

To that concern, I would say ban permanently every reporter who would so abuse his vote for personal reasons! Fortunately, Carlton made it but with fewer votes than one would rightfully expect.

Escobar has two legitimate issues. He made that obscene gesture and lip-read statement toward the official scorer. That was unsatisfactory. And sometimes he makes mental mistakes. But, he’s young and playing the most demanding position on the field.

Whether he conducts interviews with the press in quantity the press likes is frankly unimportant to me. I realize from you perspective, Mark Bradley, that since interviews represent quality to your profession that you may feel differently. But, I’d rather have the player perform on the field than in the locker room with a notepad and microphone in proximity!

Larvell Blanks

July 21st, 2009
9:26 pm

Yunel is the spark that makes this team go. Give me a few more like him.

Watching The Braves Since '66

July 21st, 2009
9:33 pm

I’m a native Atlantan and I love the Braves. Escobar STAYS unless he is caught fighting pit bulls. COX NEEDS TO GO. FRANK WREN NEEDS TO GO. SHER-HOLTZ NEEDS TO GO AS WELL. Wren signed Kamakaze to a 3 year contract at 8m a year!?!?! What a dumbass. Then he re-signs Chipper-I-Don’t-Think-I-Can-Play-Today to 3 years at 15MMM. Chipper is being paid like one of one top power hitters in game but his HR and RBI totals are middling.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
9:39 pm

I kid Dave O’Brien because he had the rotten luck to go to Kansas — hey, it’s a JOKE! — but let’s not turn this into a referendum on DOB. He’s an esteemed colleague and a fine reporter who works as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen. And it wasn’t the beat writers — Mark Bowman, another fine fellow and a fine reporter himself, also covers the team for MLB.com — who advised Bobby Cox to pull Escobar from the game that Sunday in Washington. The issues Escobar have had are/were real. Even Chino Cadahia would concede that point.

And when I said “the English-speaking press” in the column above, I included myself. I’m a member of the press, and I speak only English.

Watching The Braves Since '66

July 21st, 2009
9:42 pm

CHIPPER IS NOT A TEAM PLAYER…. ALL LAST YEAR HE TRIED TO HIT FOR AVERAGE TO WIN THE BATTING TITLE… HE WAS LOOKING FOR SINGLES ALL YEAR TRYING TO EARN A BATTING TITLE TO ADD TO HIS RESUME FOR COOPERSTOWN…

JASon

July 21st, 2009
9:51 pm

Come on, dude, why would you even use the words “lost cause.” You suck

Dale Morphy

July 21st, 2009
9:57 pm

Lost in this whole discussion is Cox’s (in my view) masterful job of reigning Escobar in and showing him who was in charge. The kid is playing great and with more self control. Cox should get credit for not letting the situation spiral out of control (Milton Bradley, anyone?).

Watching The Braves Since '66

July 21st, 2009
9:57 pm

I CHER-HOLTZ…

Bogiebusta

July 21st, 2009
9:59 pm

I’m a longtime Braves fan living in Ohio and we do not get much Braves news here. I read the AJC online but for the life of me can’t remember seeing anything specific as to what this young man has done so wrong that he is being looked upon as trade material. WHAT SPECIFICALLY HAS HE DONE….or not done? He appears to be adequate in the field and a great hitter….I would take a horses ass in the clubhouse if he could play like this.

CJDawg

July 21st, 2009
10:02 pm

YUNEL—Keep plating with that same spirit. I love the way you play the game. You play with passion and alot of pride. I am one of your biggest fans. I hope you are with the Braves for 15 more years. And to the haters, if you try to tame a wold horse, you take his heart out. I just love the wild heart he has right now. Age will settle it, nothing else. We need him to win and I love watching him play. He is one of the best SS’s in the game right now. If the Braves trade him, they are losers and will lose a fan in me. Go Yunel….you are the best.