NEW YORK – When he was sitting in his Yankee Stadium cabinet, his chin skin was gone, a pile of fresh navy blue pats around his feet, an unfamiliar No. 30 on the back of his pinstriped uniform, Edwin Encarnacion couldn't help but acknowledge it was everything a bit strange.
"Yes, you know, I used to play a lot against this team when I was at Blue Jays," he said. "So putting this uniform on now is different."
There is no doubt a little mug for Toronto Blue Jay's fans. What a weird timeline we've followed where Encarnacion, objectively one of the top 10 hits in Blue Jay's franchise history, is now three organizations away from his Toronto days, having passed Cleveland and Seattle heading for New York, one of his old the team's biggest rivals.
He played the Yankees more than 100 times with Blue Jays, who beat home runs by all forming Mariano Rivera to Hiroki Kuroda to Masahiro Tanaka. Now he is a Yankee himself and also has a throwback season.
Encarnacion led the US league with 23 home runs that go to Monday night's game and hit nine of them in Seattle's T-Mobile Park, an under-average offensive environment where the fine night air knocks down air balls. The Mariners sold high on him earlier this month and waved Encarnacion to the Yankees for a prospect after spending only 65 matches with Seattle after an off-season deal from Cleveland where he spent the last two seasons.
Encarnacion did not miss a stroke and went deeply twice in its first four games as a Yankee – the 402th and 403th long balls in his 15-year career – rounded the bases with his right elbow extended just as he always does. He is now talking with a .856 OPS in the season and positioning himself to be called an all-star for the fourth time in his career.
"I've been trying to do what I've done before. Keep working, don't focus on my numbers," he said. "Just focus on what I do. And keep working hard, man. There are many more games left. So I hope I can do well."
Some of these games are scheduled to be played in Toronto, which will be a very bizarre sight, as Encarnacion gets a rousing ovation at Rogers Center while wearing pinstripes. He says he still gets a little emotional every time he plays against the organization he spent eight years overcoming persistent fighting in the mid-20s to establish himself as one of the game's premier sluggers.
"You know, every time I play against this team …" he said and trampled in thoughts. "I just got memories with that team. So I'm very happy to see the guys and play against them again."
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Of course, when Encarnacion looks over the diamond at Blue Jay's dugout, he hardly knows anyone in it. Toronto has undergone dramatic rooster follow-up since helping Blue Jays reach after the 2015 season and & # 39; 16. Justin Smoak, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Joe Biagini are the only players left over from his days with Toronto (Ryan Tepera and Matt Dermody are still in the organization, but not currently with the Major League team).
Players like Sanchez and Stroman only entered the majesties when Encarnacion was in the top and set up 40 homer seasons. He made a point of helping them acclimatize in any way he could and encourage them through times of struggle and disappointment. Now Sanchez and Stroman serve the same role for a new crop of Blue Jay's youth.
"Yes, it is very good to see, man. That is what it is all about. When you come up here you will learn from the veterans. Until you get your time to be a leader Just as they are right now. They are the leaders in it And they know how to do it, he said. "I think the biggest thing I told the guys was playing the game properly. And respect the game. That's all it's about in this game for me. "
Toronto's coaching staff is almost completely different from the time Encarnacion had a Blue Jays uniform. Gone are John Gibbons, his long-time manager and a man with whom he developed a close relationship while he was wearing long seasons year after year. Encarnacion says it was hard to see Gibbons being forced out, even though it wasn't quite surprising.
"Gibby, the man, he was great. Fantastic guy. Good person. And he's a good boss, says Encarnacion." But you know how this business goes. There is nothing we can control. You can't control it.
"And I know Charlie [Montoyo] from when he used to be with Tampa. He is also a good person. I hope he continues to work well. He deserves it."
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It was 16 years ago when Encarnacion was a 20-year prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system, which played for dual A Chattanooga Lookouts, and Montoyo was a 37-year-old head at that level and halved the Orlando rays. It was just a 10-league league, so lookout and rays played each other a lot.
Encarnacion was still relatively new in North America, still shy, still working in its English. But when he saw the Spanish-speaking Montoyo he would open himself. Minor-league executives usually train the third base, and Encarnacion was still a third baseman at the time, which meant that the couple spent many games standing next to each other and shooting the breeze in breaks.
"I think he liked talking to me because I was Spanish. I think I made him probably go more than any other customer," Montoyo said. "He has always been a good guy, from then until now. Just always very nice. He has always been the same because he was in smaller leagues – that's what I enjoy about him. And he is always beaten. You can tell them he would be a really good player. "
Encarnacion has looked at Montoyos Blue Jay's mission far from great interest. Not just because he knows him well. But because it is still rare for a Latin American like Montoyo to get the chance to cope with a size club.
"Yes, it's good, man. Just to see them give the opportunity for a Latin guy, Encarnacion said." It's not easy for us to be Latin and be here. So I'm very happy for him. And I know he has a lot of experience. I only wish him good luck. "
And only if you wondered, yes, Encarnacion is still in close contact with his old teammate Jose Bautista. They talk or talk in a few days.
After splitting 122 matches between three NL East teams last season, Bautista went unsigned this winter and currently offers his time in Tampa Bay, Fla., Where he lives. He's not a pensioner, officially. But does he enjoy his first summer away from the game in a few decades?
"Uh, yes. But you know he still wants to play, says Encarnacion." But you know it's not easy how this game is right now. He has had time with his family. He does it well. "
Encarnacion doesn't do that badly yourself. A league lead in home team, a renaissance season, a chance to play for a first team and hit the heart of an absurdly dangerous Yankees series. It's a shame that the beard must go, Yankee rules are Yankee rules. But it is a price worth paying.
"It feels good, man – to be part of this great organization and to put on this uniform, it's an honor for me," Encarnacion said. "We have fun. And we play hard. It will be fun to see what this setup can do."