First, the surprise. Then the resignation and, finally, the joy.
Yunel Escobar, 30, went through those three stages during the days in which the biggest trade in Marlins history — involving 12 players and millions of dollars — went from one place to another in the Baseball Commissioner’s Office until it was approved before the incredulous eyes of thousands of fans annoyed by the collapse of the final remains of the team that began the 2012 season.
After the storm, the Cuban player is not only happy to play in the heart of Miami but also looks at his new future as the perfect opportunity to write a different chapter in his career.
“If I tell you that I wasn’t surprised at first, I would be lying, but then I thought that it was the best that could happen to me,” Escobar said. “I’m at a crucial moment in my career, and I don’t plan to waste it. The Marlins have put their trust on my skills, and I hope not to let them down — or the fans.”
“I can say that Miami is my home, and there’s nothing better than to play where I have so many friends, so many compatriots. The commitment is big, I know, but it’s no greater than my desire to play here.”
Escobar started off strong and was productive in Toronto. In 2011, he enjoyed a good season, batting .290 with an on-base percentage of .369 that earned him a two-year contract extension with options for two more seasons. But this past season saw a considerable decline in his numbers (.253 average and .300 OBP), and he endured the controversy over the use of a gay slur written on eye black.
That gay slur episode in September cost him a three-game suspension and the obligation to work with organizations in the gay community. During a news conference, Escobar admitted his mistake and promised to work hard to improve his image.
With the Marlins, he would be in a position to convince his critics that he still has much to offer on the field, in addition to becoming an exemplary citizen.
“One learns from everything that happens in life, and those experiences, when studied closely, make one stronger,” Escobar said. “For now, I can only give my word to the Marlins fans that I will be a model person on the field and off, that I will give 100 percent and will defend the colors of my organization to the best of my body and mind.
“I’m already working to arrive in spring training in the best possible form. You’ll see a notable change.”
That change will be welcome by the Marlins, who for years listened to complaints about the need for a Cuban player in a market with a large Cuban population. Now they will have two, because along with Escobar the acquired infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, a native of Santiago de Cuba who is lavishly praised for his defense.
According to a recent interview with Marlins president David Samson, the team expects to use Hechavarria as shortstop and will ask Escobar to play third base. This is not altogether to the liking of the former Industriales player, who in 2012 bristled when asked to make a switch similar to the one Hanley Ramirez made to accommodate the newly acquired Jose Reyes.
“They still haven’t communicated with me to discuss future plans, but I consider myself a shortstop. That’s the position I like,” Escobar said. “It is premature to give an opinion on the subject. There’s much to be discussed before decisions are made.
“The only sure thing is my desire to do everything as best as possible. I’m not promising anything spectacular, and I’m not setting specific goals as to how much I’m going to bat or how many home runs I’ll hit. No. The numbers come and go. What counts is the effort, and that effort will not be lacking.”