Escobar reaches out to media
Braves shortstop acknowledges language barrier an issue
ATLANTA -- Yunel Escobar might have declined to talk after recording his three-hit performance against the Mets on Sunday night. But after Monday's batting practice at Turner Field, the Braves shortstop made an attempt to lessen the divide between himself and media members."My door is always open," Escobar said as he concluded this exchange, with Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia serving as his interpreter. Dating back to the final two months of the 2007 season, Escobar's interaction with the media has been hindered by the me-against-world attitude that has infuriated opponents and simultaneously seemingly served as a stimulus that has helped him become one of the game's most exciting shortstops. "Even though I don't speak English fluently enough to talk [to the media], I understand a lot of [the] language and go on the Internet to read what is written," Escobar said. "So I'm fully aware of what is written." In other words, Escobar read some of the negative accounts that were written after Braves manager Bobby Cox removed him from a June 14 game because of a lack of focus. With that wound still somewhat fresh, the Cuban shortstop once again opened himself up to public ridicule on June 25, when he took exception to a charged error by gesturing toward the press box and visibly pouting during the at-bat that followed. Before opting to talk to the media Monday, Escobar received some positive press regarding the fact that he'd been named Bank of America's National League Player of the Week. "It will be an advantage for him when his English skills allow him to do interviews and to carry on conversations with mostly English-speaking media," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "At that point, he'll feel more comfortable and the media will feel more comfortable. I think it will normalize the relationship." Escobar drew more unwanted attention Saturday, when he chose not to swing at a inside pitch on a botched hit-and-run attempt that led to Diory Hernandez being thrown out at second base for the first out in the eighth inning of a one-run game. Asked to provide his defense, Escobar told a group of media members, "Come talk to me when I get three hits." Yet after recording three hits during Sunday's win over the Mets, the Braves shortstop once again chose not to speak to the media. The Braves have urged Escobar to improve his English skills. But the 26-year-old shortstop, who defected from Cuba in 2004, hasn't shown much improvement since seemingly entering the 2008 season with the desire to at least make some attempts to speak English. When asked if the language barrier has played a part in the divide between himself and the media, Escobar said, "I'm absolutely sure, probably 99 percent of the time that's probably the biggest factor." Escobar said that he's been somewhat embarrassed about the fact that some of his family members and friends in the Miami area have read accounts that have described him as having a bad attitude or being in Cox's doghouse. In addition, some of these accounts have also led some to wonder if the Braves are going to deal Escobar. But the club has provided every indication that it has no desire to move the highly skilled shortstop, who is still one season away from becoming arbitration eligible. "There weren't any problems in '07 or '08 and now all of the sudden I'm reading that I have problems with Bobby Cox, and I don't have any problems with Bobby Cox," said Escobar, who a few weeks ago told the veteran manager that he was forever grateful for the opportunity to serve as Atlanta's everyday shortstop. Two weeks ago, Escobar's cocky attitude led one Rockies player to question whether they'd missed the season that the Braves shortstop hit 30 homers and drove in 100 runs. The Braves don't have any desire for Escobar to alter this personality that sometimes infuriates both opponents and umpires. They're well aware of the fact that it has fueled him as he's produced numerous run-saving gems and collected a team-high 52 RBIs this year. But in an attempt to help improve his public image, the Braves used Javier Vazquez to help them talk to Escobar on Monday about the importance of at least attempting to prove cordial around media members. "If he had the ability to communicate with you guys directly, I think he would feel more comfortable expressing his own feelings and having you guys understand them," Wren said. As Escobar continues to adapt to a new culture, Wren sees him going through the same struggles that Wren witnessed when he was with the Marlins, who at the time employed a young Livan Hernandez, who also had some troubles when he first left Cuba. "It was very difficult," Wren said. "It was the cultural difference that I think made it somewhat intimidating for some of those players."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.