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Twins’ Escobar’s heart is back home in Venezuela

NEW YORK -- Eduardo Escobar had a tough weekend at Yankee Stadium, making three errors in a span of 19 hours, including a game-deciding mistake on Saturday afternoon.

NEW YORK - Eduardo Escobar had a tough weekend at Yankee Stadium, making three errors in a span of 19 hours, including a game-deciding mistake on Saturday afternoon.

That, however, was nothing compared to the sinking feeling the Twins’ shortstop gets watching daily news updates from back home in Venezuela.

Drastic food and medical shortages, demonstrations that often turn violent, runaway inflation and other signs of strife caused by falling oil prices and the latest political upheaval has Escobar worried about his friends and family who remain in his native land.

“The situation in Venezuela is hard,” Escobar said through an interpreter. “I’m waiting for things to get better. My country is a really good country, but the situation is so bad right now.”

His wife and children are already with him in Minnesota. Soon, Escobar said, his mother will join them for a month or more. It will be difficult to leave behind her home in Maracay, but that is the best thing for the family.

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“Maybe after the season my brother will come to Miami, to my home, but right now everybody stays over there,” the 27-year-old Escobar said. “I text every day. I call every day. I try to make sure everything is OK.”

Rudy Hernandez, the Twins’ assistant hitting coach, also hails from Maracay. While he has a place in the Twin Cities for his wife and children and a few other family members in Sarasota, Fla., his three brothers and three sisters remain in their troubled country.

Will they relocate to the U.S. at some point?

“They’re thinking about it,” said the 50-year-old Hernandez. “We’ll see. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Like Escobar, Hernandez watches the news reports of his homeland and wonders if things can possibly get better before they get worse.

“It’s the same thing every day,” Hernandez said. “It’s really tough right now. Talking to our families, it’s hard to find food over there right now. They sell a lot of stuff, but it’s really overpriced. The people that are working down there, they don’t make that kind of money to buy all that stuff.”

He mentions talk of President Nicolas Maduro possibly scheduling open parliamentary elections for October. In the meantime, opposition leaders continue to be jailed, and censorship of the media remains a daily threat under the Chavistas.

Like Escobar, Hernandez remains hopeful but concerned.

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While Hernandez figures to continue his offseason work as a bench coach for the Aragua Tigers in the Venezuelan Winter League, the ever-popular Escobar plans to curtail his schedule this winter.

“My wife (Andrea) said, ‘No mas,’ ” he said. “I will probably play a couple of games here and there in January, just to get ready, but not the full season.”

Complicating matters for Escobar is the fact he has been invited for the first time to represent Venezuela at the World Baseball Classic next spring. Detroit Tigers first-base coach Omar Vizquel, who will manage Team Venezuela, called Escobar during spring training with the good news.

“He said, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to be on my team,’ ” Escobar said. “We talked about it more when we faced them in Detroit last month. He’s a really good friend.”

Teammates briefly with the Chicago White Sox in 2011, Vizquel and Escobar have developed a mentor-pupil relationship despite their division rivalry.

“He has taught me a lot,” Escobar said of the 11-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop. “I’ve worked with him a lot, too.”

According to Escobar, Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar is the likely starter at that premium position, one with a proud history in Venezuela. Martin Prado (Miami Marlins) is penciled in as the starting third baseman, with Tigers star Miguel Cabrera at first base and reigning American League batting champion Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros at second base.

Salvador Perez of the Royals will be the primary catcher, with former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez the likely ace of the pitching staff.

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In the outfield, Escobar named Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra, both of the Colorado Rockies, as potential starters who are expected to sign on.

“We have some really good players,” Escobar said. “World champions. Gold Glove winners.”

It doesn’t bother Escobar in the least to be selected in a bench role. He is good friends with his Royals namesake at the position.

“I’m there because I can play different positions,” Escobar said. “That’s the reason why I’m going.”

Hernandez was in the mix as a potential hitting coach for Vizquel’s staff, but Team Venezuela general manager Carlos Guillen may have had pressure from the country’s baseball federation to put former big-league outfielders Bobby Abreu and Magglio Ordonez in uniform.

They will share hitting coach responsibilities, Hernandez said.

Perhaps 2017 will be the year Venezuela finally lives up to its burgeoning talent pool at the WBC. The first three events saw them bow out earlier than expected, with a semifinal trip in 2009 their best finish so far.

As much as they hope the political unrest at home will be solved in the interim, Escobar and Hernandez recognize Team Venezuela could well be playing to inspire a baseball-mad population back home.

“I’m more sad for my country than I am scared,” Escobar said. “It’s a beautiful country. All I can do at this point is ask God to fix everything.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TWINS
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