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Reliever Edwin Escobar motivated by family, major league hitter


MESA, Ariz. — Shota Imanaga and Seiya Suzuki were recently seen chatting near the pitcher’s locker in the Chicago Cubs’ clubhouse before the team took a swing.

While they were talking, left-hander Edwin Escobar stopped by and seamlessly joined the conversation in native Japanese, causing former Yokohama Bay Stars teammate Imanaga to laugh at one point.

“He’s Shota’s second interpreter,” manager Craig Counsell later joked.

Escobar’s journey to the Cubs has been an unusual one for the trilingual Venezuelan. After seven seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, Escobar, who turned 32 in April, decided it was time to return to Major League Baseball.

“I felt ready to come back,” Escobar told the Tribune. “I gained a lot of experience there and more knowledge of the game.”

But more important than showing he can be a successful big-league reliever, Escobar’s family was his biggest motivation in leaving the NPB, where he received an offer to return for 2024.

The temptation to be closer to his family was too great to ignore. Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the impact of the ensuing pandemic, Escobar was unable to see his children (Dominik, 13), Dhanna, 8, and Evan, 4, from 2020-22 during the eight months each year he had to spend in Japan. . The portrait tattoos of his three children on his right forearm are a constant reminder of his motivation.

“This made my decision to return easier,” Escobar said. “It’s a blessing to see them here every day. I was looking for this moment when my whole family would be with me. I wake up and I see them and they see my shot.

Overseas leagues, including the NPB, often serve as a more lucrative option for journeyman players who cannot establish themselves with a major league team. For most people, this is an option pursued in their late 20s or early 30s. However, Escobar joined the Bay Stars shortly before he turned 25 after appearing in a total of 27 major league games across two organizations. His final year with a major league organization (he started 25 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks) coincided with the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship season.

Escobar said his NPB experience taught him how to better handle a reliever’s workload and reminded him how to pitch five days in a row.

“It was hard, but now I can get out of the cage almost every day, which is a huge thing,” Escobar said. “Not many people can do that. I’ve built my strength.”

During his seven seasons in Japan, Escobar had a 3.17 ERA in 395 games; This includes making at least 60 appearances five times. Escobar never thought going to Japan would mean the end of his major league opportunities. He thought he would come back when he was ready.

“So many people ask me the same question: ‘Do you want to stay in Japan forever?’ I don’t know, but I feel like one day I will come back to the United States and to MLB,” Escobar said.

Following the 2023 NPB season, Escobar discussed the situation with his wife. He felt ready for a new challenge, but admitted that at one point he thought he would stay in Japan for another year.


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