TORONTO - It was Yunel Escobar day at the Rogers Centre last night.
No bobblehead giveaway. No public beheading either.
The Blue Jays shortstop, who as the English would say, stepped in it back on Sept. 15 when during a game at home against the Boston Red Sox he wrote the message "Tu eres Maricon" on his eyeblack patches. Translated from Spanish, it read: "You are a faggot."
The you-know-what didn’t hit the fan until the following Monday and since that day Escobar has been in the doghouse with the Jays organization, pulling out all the stops in what has turned into a public relations nightmare.
The Jays then went on the road for nine days and it wasn’t until last night, when playing the first of four games against the New York Yankees, that Escobar made his return to the scene of the crime.
Escobar received just a handful of boos in the pre-game introduction and next to none at all when he made his first plate appearance in the opening inning, batting fourth. Throughout the game he was mostly ignored by the 23,060 fans who cheered on the Jays to their 6-0 victory.
It was about as fine a game as the Jays have played all season as Edwin Encarnacion drove in three runs while Brett Lawrie clubbed a two-run home run and J.P. Arencibia hit a solo shot.
Brandon Morrow blanked the Yankees, giving up four hits over seven innings to get the win.
The media, though, chewed on the Escobar story like a pit bull on a pork chop.
Manager John Farrell had the decision to play Escobar or sit him and chose the former just to get the issue out of the way as much as anything else.
“I view these situations as there’s going to be a first at some point so, you know what, he’s part of our team," Ferrell said.
Part of the consequences for Escobar was to meet last night before the game with Patrick Burke of You Can Play, an advocacy group that promotes equality for gay athletes. Also present was Jose Estevez, 19, a gay athlete from Boston College.
If it all seems like a bit of a dog and pony show at this point, Burke, the son of Leafs GM Brian Burke, begs to differ.
“Jose told his story and what it’s like being a gay athlete (a collegiate runner), growing up as a gay athlete and how words like the ones that Yunel used can really affect athletes both in the locker room and at home,” Burke said. “I think it put a face on the issue for Yunel and humanized the issue of gay athletes for Yunel.”
Omar Vizquel, 45, an elder statesman on the team and a Latino from Venezuela, didn’t excuse Escobar but said that his actions should be taken with a grain of salt, that there was no intent to insult and that cultural differences played a large role.
“In the Latin world, or in our custom, whatever he meant, didn’t really mean much for us,” Vizquel said. “I know in other cultures it might be a little different. We call each other that name ... It’s not a huge thing for us."
“I don’t think he tried to offend anybody. It was a joke he was playing with a friend. He obviously apologized already and realized he made a big mistake.
“I understand where everybody’s coming from but it’s a culture thing and I think we have to learn each other’s culture as much as Yunel learned his mistake. They also have to learn the way we speak sometime.”
The fact that Escobar hails from Cuba offers different obstacles, Vizquel added.
“Cuban players ... they come here to learn. They come to understand the American way. Some of them are just trying to learn the culture, which has a huge impact coming from where these guys are from. I mean, I’m a Latino and I come from Venezuela and it’s a hard way for me, but when I hear the stories they went through (Cubans) and things that happened in their lives and they got to United States and how they got to sign a professional contract, it’s just an amazing story.
“I think you guys, the people who have the power to write and to make stories, should make an effort to try and understand these players a little more. I encourage each one of you to try to understand him. He’s different. It’s a different culture. He needs as much help as you can (give).”
In the end it’s all about communication or lack of it and understanding, a two-way street.
Two weeks ago, Escobar wandered into that street and got hit by a bus.