By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.—Popular. Friendly. Great teammate. All-star. Those are just a few words used to describe Altoona Curve first baseman Edwin Espinal.
“He’s definitely a very nice guy,” Curve manager Joey Cora said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “His teammates love him.”
Cora remembers the first time he saw Espinal during the organization’s 2016 spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla.
“He’s a big guy,” Cora said of the 6-1, 247-pounder, “and the Pirates make you do a shuttle run before you can get on the practice field. If you don’t do it within the allotted time, you’ve got to keep doing it, until you do.
“He had a tough time because of his size, and didn’t make it – barely,” Cora noted. “That wasn’t the great thing, though. He kept doing it and was cheering everybody else while he was running. That’s him. He loves his teammates and the team, and that makes him special in the clubhouse.
“When I saw that, I told Larry Broadway (director of minor league operations), I want that guy.”
Cora got him, too. Espinal has been a regular with the Curve most of the season, batting around .300 or above and earning a spot on the Eastern League’s Western Division All-Star Team in July.
“A couple days before we found out, he asked me if the all-star team was only for prospects,” Cora said. “I honestly didn’t know what to tell him. He’s not perceived as a big prospect, and you never know how they’re going to pick them.
“When his name was on the list, I couldn’t wait to tell him and the rest of the team,” Cora continued. “He made everybody happy because he worked so hard and earned it.”
Espinal, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was thrilled with his selection.
“That was very big,” he said. “My first all-star and it was a good experience. I was surprised, but I was working for it. Joey (Cora) gave me the opportunity here.”
Espinal said the Indians also expressed interest in him before he signed with the Pirates at the age of 17, noting: “Cleveland talked to me, but I liked the Pirates better.”
He began his career in the U.S. with Tom Prince and the Gulf Coast League Pirates in 2012. “We were the champions,” he said. He also played at short-season Jamestown, low-A West Virginia and high-A Bradenton before coming to Altoona this season.
“I like Altoona,” Espinal said. “It’s a very good park. I like the city and the fans, too. I live with Erich Weiss and Stetson Allie. They are unbelievable people. They help me with everything.”
Espinal should be commended for his English skills. When he first came to the U.S. he could not speak a word of English.