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"You smile a little bit more when he's around"
Eduardo Escobar has brought hustle and joy to clubhouses over 10 years in the majors
By Jerry Crasnick
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Eduardo Escobar’s story of sacrifice and hard work is an inspiration to those who know him best. He was seven years old when he left school in his hometown of La Pica, Venezuela, and spent his days sweeping backyards, cutting down trees and doing other manual labor to help his mother support him and his four siblings. He knows poverty, humility and the love that brings a family together and helps it navigate tough times.

Escobar still speaks frequently with his mother, Carmen. But if he’s looking for words of comfort and sympathy during tough times – for instance, a recent 1-for-31 stretch with the New York Mets – he’s talking to the wrong person.

“She texts me every day,’’ Escobar said. “(When I was struggling) she was like, ‘What are you doing at the plate right now? Let’s go! Go fight!’ It can get really, really bad. And I’m like, ‘Are you speaking to me?’’’

Escobar’s perseverance carried him to a personal milestone in May, when he accrued 10 years of major-league service time. Pitcher Max Scherzer gave him a bottle of champagne in the clubhouse, and the New York players applauded a teammate who radiates positive vibes in every clubhouse he enters. Escobar’s outgoing nature and inclusiveness have earned him scores of friends during stops with the White Sox, Twins, Brewers, Diamondbacks and now the Mets.

“He’s the ultimate clubhouse guy,’’ said Brian Dozier, Escobar’s former Minnesota teammate and one of his closest friends in the game. “He plays hard and he knows how to win. But he’s also probably the funniest guy you’ll ever be around in a clubhouse. Everything just seems to be a little bit better and you smile a little bit more when he’s around.’’

Escobar is one of roughly 40 Venezuelan players to reach 10 years service time, a designation attained by fewer than 10 percent of 20,000-plus major-league players throughout the game’s history. The list includes Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio, future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera and a list of All-Stars ranging from Bobby Abreu at the top of the alphabet to Carlos Zambrano at the end.

“It’s very important for me,’’ Escobar said. “I remember when I started playing baseball, I never thought I’d play 10 years in the big leagues. When I first became a pro, I was poor. No sleeping. No eating. Through everything bad that happened to me, I never listened to what people said and I continued with my dream. And look now: I have 10 years and I might want to play five or seven or eight more years.’’

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Escobar, 33, was barely 17 when the White Sox signed him for a $25,000 bonus in January 2006. Five years later, he was rated Chicago’s No. 5 prospect by Baseball America. Amador Arias, the Venezuelan scout who signed Escobar, compared him to Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente for his all-out, aggressive style of play. “His makeup was incredible,’’ Amador said in a 2020 interview with the Arizona Republic. “He had a heart as big as Texas.’’

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen became an early advocate and mentor for Escobar, who regarded Chicago as his baseball home. When the White Sox rocked Escobar’s world and sent him to Minnesota as part of a trade for pitcher Francisco Liriano in 2012, he was in a state of despair. He called Carmen back home in Venezuela, cried over the phone and told her he was ready to quit before relenting and reporting to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.

Escobar quickly found a home in Minnesota because of his versatility and willingness to play anywhere on the field. He added some loft to his swing during the 2017-2018 offseasons, found his power stroke and broke out for 35 homers and a .511 slugging percentage with Arizona in 2019. Last year, he made his first career All-Star Game at age 32.

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The teammates who’ve shared a clubhouse with Escobar through the years revel in stories about his eccentricities. Escobar speaks with a rapid-fire mix of Spanish and English and has a nickname for almost every teammate, coach or clubhouse attendant who crosses his path. Many of those nicknames are rooted in pop culture and his favorite movies.

“I was with him for eight years and the only movies he watched were ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ ‘Major League’ and ‘G.I. Jane,’ ” Dozier said. “He rotated them on every single plane ride and wherever else he was. He never watched anything else, and that's kind of how he learned English.’’

Dozier was initially puzzled when Escobar referred to him as “Lo’Connor’’ during their time in Triple-A ball. When he asked why, Escobar told him he resembled Brian O’Connor, the character played by the late Paul Walker in “The Fast and the Furious’’ series. Ten years later, Escobar still refers to Dozier as “Lo’Connor.’’

“We did a video for him in Minnesota,’’ Dozier said. “All the guys he’d played with for a handful of years walked up and said, ‘What’s my name?’ He didn’t know probably 90 percent of them. He just knew their nicknames.’’

Like the Pedro Cerrano character in “Major League,’’ Escobar will go to great lengths to dig himself out of batting slumps. His tactics range from bringing his bats to chapel to wrapping them in blankets to keep them warm.

Escobar has a well-documented fondness for the Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao, and proposed marriage to his wife, Eucaris, at the downtown Minneapolis location. He also suffers from ailurophobia, or fear of cats. Dozier recalls how Twins Hall of Famer Rod Carew and his wife had two cats that were so “ginormous’’ they traveled around in strollers. Escobar would be lounging on the clubhouse sofa texting friends or hitting in the indoor batting cage when one of the cats would appear and sent him into a frenzy, as amused teammates lurked around corners and took in the show.

Dogs are a different story. During a recent video chat, Escobar tugged on his T-shirt to reveal a tattoo of his one-year-old St. Bernard puppy, Picanero, beneath his left collarbone. “He looks just like Beethoven,’’ Escobar tells people, in reference to the canine star of the 1992 film.

For all the comic relief he provides, Escobar stays grounded in his humble origins and pride in his homeland. During the first MLB Players Weekend in 2017, he wore a jersey with the inscription “El De La Pica’’ in tribute to his hometown. He has formed a foundation to provide food, medicine, baseball equipment and educational resources in his native Venezuela, and has yet to find a hospital he won’t visit or a school where he won’t share his message with kids. He is grateful for all the blessings he has received and intent on paying it forward.

Eduardo and Eucaris Escobar have four sons and a daughter. Diego, the youngest boy, signed his first professional contract with the Diamondbacks in January and is just beginning his professional journey. The best gift Eduardo Escobar can give his son, in his estimation, is his good name and reputation in the game.

“When I retire, I want to leave the door open for my son,’’ Escobar said. “I want everybody to say, ‘Your father was a good player and a good, humble person who respected the game. That’s why I push myself hard every day. No matter what the result, I respect the game, enjoy the game and bring the best energy I can every single day. Because baseball is my life.’’

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“When I retire, I want to leave the door open for my son,’’ Escobar said. “I want everybody to say, ‘Your father was a good player and a good, humble person who respected the game. That’s why I push myself hard every day. No matter what the result, I respect the game, enjoy the game and bring the best energy I can every single day. Because baseball is my life.’’

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