Live Stream: Fubo TV
TORONTO — It was 10:30 a.m. Sunday, and inside Gio Urshela’s locker in the visitor’s clubhouse at the Rogers Centre, his good luck charm was wearing his sunglasses.
“He had a long night,” Urshela said, laughing.
“He” was a 12-inch plush toy who is perhaps the team’s biggest pre-trade-deadline addition. The previous day, the parrot — named after Edwin Encarnacion — was sporting Urshela’s gold-colored bracelet around his neck while Urshela was manning third base. Parrot Edwin has also sat in the dugout, celebrated home runs during games and ridden in his own seat on the team’s charter plane.
“I take him with me everywhere,” Urshela said.
Except on the field, where Urshela, 27, has been a breakout star this season, one of several little-known players who have lifted the Yankees amid a crushing season of injuries. The late-blooming third baseman, long recognized primarily for his defense, has resurrected his career with the Yankees, who have been without the star third baseman Miguel Andujar since he had shoulder surgery in May. And this season, Urshela’s colorful personality has emerged along with his offensive prowess.
Urshela had developed a reputation across parts of three major league seasons as a strong defender with a weak bat. But after a minor league trade from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Yankees last August, he revamped his swing with help from the Yankees’ Class AAA hitting coach, Phil Plantier. Urshela, who was re-signed this winter on a minor league deal, has had many hitting coaches throughout three major league organizations, but Plantier’s words about using his legs resonated.
“That’s where you get the power to drive the ball,” said Urshela, who has also lowered his hands and abbreviated the leg kick in his swing.
Despite being an aggressive swinger, Urshela’s ability to make better contact has led to this: a .335 average through Wednesday with a .964 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage that is the highest mark on a team loaded with power hitters. Thanks to a torrid stretch last week in which he smashed six home runs despite missing two games with bruised legs, Urshela extended his season total to 18. Before this season, his career total was eight.
“He’s been not a good but a great player for us all around,” said Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, adding later, “It’s a tribute to him, his talent, his ability to grow in this game, his ability to make adjustments.”
And to have fun. Urshela, while often soft-spoken in interviews, has brought his own goofiness to the buttoned up franchise. After stellar defensive plays or key hits, Urshela points to his dugout or laughs. When Francisco Lindor, the shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, Urshela’s former club, robbed him of a hit during a game in June, Urshela taunted his best friend from the dugout.
“I always try to have fun,” said Urshela, a native of Cartagena, Colombia. “I try to be happy. It’s how I play and feel good.”
Parrot Edwin is the latest example. Urshela’s fondness for Encarnacion dates to their time together on the 2017 Indians. When the Yankees acquired Encarnacion from the Seattle Mariners on June 15, former teammates of the slugger, including Urshela, were thrilled.
Aside from being a proven power hitter, Encarnacion possesses his own playful side. After a home run during the 2012 season, he rounded the bases with his right elbow out as if he were holding a parrot. His teammates found this hilarious, dubbed it the “Edwing,” and encouraged him to continue. They bought a stuffed animal parrot to use in the dugout.
Fans seized on the idea, too, bringing plush toy parrots stadiums where Encarnacion was playing or dressing up like a bird. The idea of buying a plush toy parrot for the Yankees clubhouse didn’t occur to Urshela until a month after Encarnacion had arrived.
Urshela ordered a stuffed scarlet macaw on Amazon, and it arrived in time for the last game of the Yankees’ series in Minnesota on July 24. (Urshela couldn’t remember the price, but a near exact toy was available for $12.38 as of Wednesday.)
Encarnacion hit a ninth-inning solo home run that day. It was his 30th of the year, the eighth straight season in which he has reached that mark. As he entered the dugout after the homer, infielder Gleyber Torres handed him the plush toy, which had been hiding in the dugout all game. As he high-fived laughing teammates, Encarnacion did so with parrot Edwin in hand.
But Urshela made one thing clear: The parrot was a privilege, not a right. “That day, we took it out,” Urshela said. “But I put it away because he didn’t hit home runs.”
Indeed, Encarnacion didn’t. Eight home run-less games after parrot Edwin appeared, Encarnacion was hit by a pitch on Aug. 3 and suffered a hairline fracture in his right wrist. The injury may sideline Encarnacion (and parrot Edwin) until sometime in September.
As disappointing as the injury was, Encarnacion couldn’t help but laugh when parrot Edwin appeared in the dugout at the next game with his right wing wrapped in medical tape, courtesy of Urshela.
“He’s like a good-luck charm,” Urshela said. “We have him there and we keep winning.” For the record, the Yankees were 65-35 (a .650 winning percentage) before parrot Edwin arrived and have gone 16-6 (.727) with him in tow.
“It started as a joke but it’s become a tradition,” said pitcher Domingo German, who has been spotted rubbing the parrot’s head in the dugout during games. “It’s a long season. You have to find ways to have fun and manage the stress.”
Even the stoic D.J. LeMahieu, an infielder, smiled when asked about Urshela and the parrot. “It’s funny,” he said.
Urshela was proud to note that during the team’s previous home stand in New York he had seen a few fans at Yankee Stadium holding up plush toy parrots of their own. “The stuffed animal is getting famous,” he said.
The original will remain a key part of the Yankees’ spirit. After Sunday’s game in Toronto, Urshela packed his gear into a Yankees duffel bag. Sitting atop the pile of clothing inside of it was parrot Edwin. He indeed goes everywhere with them, even while Encarnacion remained in New York recovering.