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Angels third baseman Yunel Escobar aims to become a U.S. citizen

Angels third baseman Yunel Escobar aims to become a U.S. citizen
Third baseman Yunel Escobar, who fled Cuba to come to the U.S. in 2004, is entering his second season with the Angels. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday in Miami, Yunel Escobar will take the naturalization test necessary for him to become a United States citizen. The Angels third baseman left camp Wednesday morning with the team's approval and is expected back Friday.

"He wants to become a U.S. citizen," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Especially with his background of how he got to this country, he feels connected with it."

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Aspiring to support his family by playing professional baseball in the U.S., Escobar escaped baseball-mad Cuba in September 2004 at age 21. The passage was arduous. He told the Washington Post that he and his group of close friends had to hike through a jungle, cross a 400-foot-wide river and travel by boat to Florida over three days while subsisting on water and crackers, with sharks circling. When he reached Miami, he spent eight months living and training with his smugglers until he could pay them the fee for his crossing.

"If we had known what it would be like, I would have stayed in Cuba," he told the Post.

Atlanta eventually selected him in the second round of the 2005 draft and signed him to a $475,000 bonus. He reached the big leagues two years later and established a steady career as an infielder and contact hitter. He has made more than $31 million to date and hit .283 with a .351 on-base percentage over his career.

Escobar typically declines to speak to reporters. Twice last season, he cursed when asked to comment on controversies, first when he appeared to forget the number of outs in an inning, and then when he drew a strike zone in the infield dirt to demonstrate a pitch's location to an umpire.

The Angels acquired Escobar from Washington for two pitching prospects in December 2015. In the last seven years, he has been traded six times, as many as any active player. The Angels explored trading him before last season's nonwaiver deadline, but opted to keep him and exercise his $7-million club option for 2017.

He hit .304 as the club's leadoff hitter, and figures to continue in that role before becoming a free agent at the end of the season.

Angels right-hander Jesse Chavez is the only other player on any Major League Baseball roster to have been traded six times. Fittingly, this is his third time as Escobar's teammate; the two spent the first half of 2010 in Atlanta and a few weeks of 2012 together in Toronto.

He had not heard the news of Escobar's scheduled test until a reporter informed him Wednesday.

"That's a big step for him, especially playing baseball and being over here," Chavez said. "It's good for him."

The Immigration and Nationality Act requires naturalization test-takers to demonstrate an understanding of American history and government, and an ability to read, write, and speak basic English. Ninety-one percent of applicants pass the test, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Short hops

Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin was in camp Wednesday, taking part in rundown drills. ... Baldoquin signed for $8 million in 2015 and was in Arizona for spring training with the Angels in 2015 and 2016, but did not receive an invitation this season after hitting .219 in his first two professional seasons. Because they signed him, the Angels were banned from giving international prospects signing bonuses greater than $300,000 until July 2, 2017. … Right-hander Matt Shoemaker will make his first spring-training start Friday, followed by left-hander Tyler Skaggs and right-hander Garrett Richards. ... Jefry Marte played third base, first base and left field for the Angels last season. He did not take part in an outfield meeting this week, but Scioscia said he remains in the outfield mix.

Twitter: @pedromoura

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UPDATES:

6 p.m.: This article has been updated with new information and notes.

This article was originally published at 10:35 a.m.

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