Making a difference with the power of a smile

September 18th, 2019

PHOENIX -- When he enters the room, he smiles. Then they smile. Finally, an ordinary morning becomes a true fiesta wherever shows up to one of the many charity events that made him the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Roberto Clemente Award nominee.

“It is a true privilege to be nominated for this award,” said Escobar, who was so excited that he called his wife Eucaris to let her know as soon as he heard the news.

“It’s not about the award itself as much as the person it is named after that moves me. Roberto Clemente was an extremely humble, generous man who loved to help others. That is why I am so proud.”

The individual who informed Escobar of his nomination was D-backs vice president of corporate and community impact Debbie Castaldo, who has seen firsthand the life-altering results of players’ selflessness over the years.

“Luis Gonzalez obviously sets the standard. Miguel Montero, Justin Upton and Paul Goldschmidt also did great things, but Eduardo is something special,” Castaldo said. “He wants to go out [in the community] every single homestand.”

Escobar arrived in Arizona in July 2018 after being acquired in a trade with Minnesota, and what the community in the desert quickly learned is that its new infielder had a heart even bigger than his triple-digit RBI total and career-best numbers in homers, triples, runs and slugging percentage this season.

It doesn’t matter if his pregame routine is broken up to go inspire children of refugees from all over the world at Valencia Newcomer School, he will be there eager to make their day. It can be 9 a.m. on a Thursday and he is giving away school supplies inside a specially made school bus just 12 hours after landing in Phoenix following a disappointing loss in the mile-high altitude of Colorado.

“A smile is the best gift any child can give me. I will visit a school or a hospital anytime I get the chance to. I will go see them to motivate them and teach them that they can always make strides in life,” said Escobar, who grew up with few resources in the humble Venezuelan neighborhood of La Pica.

He had to work in the streets to help his mother put food on the table since he was just 7 years old, so formal education was not easily within his grasp. That’s why his focus is to try to give kids the chances he never had.

“I never lost faith or gave up, and I don’t want them to ever give up either,” the 30-year-old infielder said.

Escobar’s efforts go far beyond his visits to schools in Arizona. Once he’s there, he encourages students of all ages to get great grades by inviting the baseball and softball players who perform at an All-Star level in the classroom to batting practices at Chase Field, and to a delicious yearly dinner funded by the Eduardo Escobar Foundation at Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao.

“In a short amount of time, Eduardo has made an immediate impact on this organization with his generosity and selflessness. His passion for the game rivals his passion for giving back, and the D-backs, and the city of Phoenix, are better because of him,” said D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall.

D-backs executives aren’t the only ones in awe of Escobar’s reach and impact in the community. In what could be called the “Escobar effect,” his Latin teammates and coaches have been moved to give more of their time and effort to charity after seeing Escobar in action.

One of those teammates is Yoan López the 26-year-old Cuban reliever who fostered a pupil/mentor kind of relationship with Escobar ever since he tagged along for a recent visit to Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

“I just remember this kid who was coming down the hallway, who was in bad shape and it broke my heart. I’m sure it broke Eduardo’s heart, too, but then he went up to him with the biggest smile and it made the kid smile, too! That stuck with me,” said López, who is in his first full season with the D-backs.

“I also remember us coming out of the hospital and Eduardo telling me that it is imperative for us to keep things in perspective and to try to avoid complaining about some of the things we tend to take for granted, because those kids have it way worse every day.”

For Escobar, that perspective is a reminder of the challenges his efforts help surpass daily and the importance of “getting as many allies as possible for great causes,” such as López.

“I am just a man blessed by God with health for myself and my family, but whenever I see a kid in an incubator, it shakes me to my core,” Escobar said. “But I love it when the kids ask me questions.”

Behind a great man, of course, there is a great woman. That woman for Eduardo is his wife, who handles the day to day aspects of his foundation and accompanies him to as many charity events as she can.

“Eucaris is a woman who fights by my side and supports me in absolutely everything I do,” Escobar said.

“It is truly amazing what she does balancing life with our five kids and staying on top of everything. She fights alongside me and cares a great deal for young people. We are blessed, and we must give back and share all the love we receive somehow.”

Escobar still has many goals and ambitions to achieve both on and off the diamond, but his legacy is something that he can envision with clarity.

“I am so proud of the support I get from [the D-backs]. We will do even more things next year," he said. "I want my legacy to be one of a humble guy who was always smiling and made others smile. When I retire, I want people to tell my kids that their father was a very humble person who always set the right example.”