In the NHL, seemingly every team has a player that could be referred to as a ‘pest.’ The pest is that player that just gets under the skin of the opposition, and seemingly has an uncanny of drawing the other team into making mistakes. He is the kind of player that fans love on their team, but detest on another squad. There are not a lot of players like that in baseball, but the Rays appear to have one in Yunel Escobar.
Escobar has seemingly been a lightning rod for controversy from the start, and it had typically been of his own doing. He was sent packing from Atlanta because he and former manager Bobby Cox could not get along, and generated more controversy through the homophobic slur on his eyeblack in Toronto. Yet, since coming to Tampa, he has found a place that he can be himself, and be appreciated by his teammates, coaching staff and the fans.
What Escobar, and Chris Archer, for that matter, do is play the game with enthusiasm. Escobar frequently will jump and celebrate after making an excellent play in the field, which has caused him to rapidly become a favorite amongst the Rays fans. Yet, those antics have helped to draw the ire of the fans of the opposing team, and opposing players. Sometimes, even his seemingly innocuous actions can lead to vitriol amongst the fans.
A case in point was last night, when Escobar did not toss a foul ball into the stands at Fenway while on deck. On the very first pitch of the ensuing plate appearance, Escobar ducked out of the way of a high and tight fastball. Naturally, the crowd at Fenway had completely normal reaction….wait…..actually, they cheered loudly that the ball had been close to Escobar’s head. All because he did not flip a foul ball into the stands?
However, this is the type of reaction a player like Escobar elicits. He is that player that the opposition loves to hate, and they likely will make their displeasure known in any way possible. Yet, if the script was flipped, and Escobar was on their team, those same fans would likely consider him a fan favorite, and go out of their way to expound upon his virtues.
Yunel Escobar is probably the closest that baseball has to the NHL pest. Fortunately for the Rays, he is their pest, and they are glad to have him.