Edwin Encarnacion Edwin Encarnacion
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Edwin Encarnacion ambles across the Cleveland Indians spring training clubhouse. Most of the team is heading the opposite way, exiting toward an awaiting bus that will depart for today’s spring training game against the San Diego Padres.

Instead, Encarncion is coming off the Indians’ sun-splashed Goodyear, Arizona, fields after an extended morning of conditioning and baseball workouts. A light afternoon lies ahead, befitting his veteran star status. 

The prized free agent slugger often appears unfazed, walking the facility’s fields and halls with his glove atop his head in place of his navy-and-red, block-C cap.

As he idly removes his mitt from his head while dropping equipment at his corner locker, another team wearing red and blue holds his attention on the clubhouse television. His new Tribe teammate and fellow Dominican countryman Carlos Santana is onscreen playing in the World Baseball Classic, the international tournament that brings together the game’s best players. 

In his first season here, Encarnacion passed on representing the reigning WBC champions to fully integrate into his new family in Arizona. 

Still, the 34-year-old remains transfixed on his original family.

Every bit of Encarnacion’s journey to become an elite major league hitter and his three-year, $65 million contract with the Indians comes from those who raised him in the Caribbean — those represented by “DOMINICANA” across their jerseys. 

For the defending American League champions, Encarnacion represents a shift that registers like one of his mammoth home runs. His contract is the largest in team history and adds one of the league’s best power hitters to a roster that expects to compete for a World Series title again in 2017 — and beyond.

On the screen, the scrappy Colombia team is giving Santana and company a first-round battle. Without Encarnacion, who hit .333 with 7 home runs in the last WBC, the Dominicans hold just a one-run lead late in the final game of pool play. 

Encarnacion leans forward at a small clubhouse table as Colombia comes to bat in the eighth inning. He’s telling a story about a much different career point, a time when he was struggling to stay in the big leagues.

“I didn’t want to go back to the minors but … ayyyyy!” Encarnacion exclaims midsentence as Colombia’s Jorge Alfaro circles the bases with a tying home run. 


Encarnacion grew up in the coastal city of La Romana, where the Chavon River splits the town like an old American railroad into the haves and have-nots. 

While almost impossible to envision from his poor Rio Salado barrio, the grand life he currently enjoys was never difficult to see. All Encarnacion had to do was gaze across the river’s tranquil waters to the lush, green hillside dotted with lavish homes. 

“I never thought I was going to get one of those big houses in the hills,” Encarnacion recalls. “How was I going to get it? No chance.”

In La Romana, where people either survived or thrived off the major sugar cane company, the Encarnacion home revolved around the sweetness of mangoes. 

Eight mango trees surrounded their small lot and supplied much more than food and shade. Encarnacion and his friends sold the abundant fruit by the river and used the money for groceries, school supplies or gifts. The trees — and baseball — also helped make the Encarnacion home a gathering place.

Reared by a strict, military-groomed father, Elpidio, and a quiet, doting mother, Mireya Rivera, the three Encarnacion sons and lone daughter were not allowed to play at friends’ homes. 

But the large mango tree that towered beyond the house’s patio stairs served as a perfect home run fence for vitilla — the Dominican game of stickball. Even then, Encarnacion’s broomstick smashes frequently drove the water bottle cap that served as the ball into the leafy tree. 

“I was a kid,” he says. “I just played for fun.”

The neighborhood baseball field, just a short walk from their home, was among the city’s best. The sugar cane company, where his parents both worked for a time, helped support it by clearing debris from the dirt paths and maintaining the patchy grass. 

“It’s crazy how we’d play the game,” he says. “We love it, that’s why.” 

Elpidio, however, would not let his son play Little League ball until he learned to hit and catch on his home patio. So when Encarnacion was 7 years old, his father spent 500 pesos — about $10 — to buy fish netting from a neighbor and erect a batting cage between two poles on the large outdoor space. 

“I always liked to hit,” Encarnacion recalls. “My dad said he didn’t want me to be a pitcher when I was little, because I could hurt my arm.”

His younger sister, Evelin, recalls those days fondly.

“You could just hear the sound of the bat in the mornings,” she says. “Oh my gosh, Saturday mornings. They used to walk to the baseball field at the park. But before and after the games, all of the neighborhood boys were always meeting at our house.”

When they weren’t playing outside, the boys and their friends gathered around a Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball video game Elpidio had brought home from a trip to Puerto Rico. 

“I never imagined this was going to turn into something,” says Evelin. “Never. It was just fun to have a great time. It was our childhood, and we just had to have fun in the moment.”

Yet even as Encarnacion started to realize he had talent, something nagged at him — his size. Short and skinny in a loose-fitting jersey, he was constantly reminded of what was going to hold him back.

“I was pissed at my mom and dad,” he says. “When I was 10 years old, I knew I was a good hitter, but I was so little. My mom is a little girl, so I told my dad, ‘Why did you marry her? She’s not that big. Now I’m not going to be a baseball player because I’m going to be a little guy.’ ”

As Encarnacion got older and stronger, he branched into other sports, especially basketball and volleyball. He jokes that his new Indians teammates might be surprised by his talent. “They don’t know it, but they’re going to be scared of me when they see me play,” he says, breaking from his normally reserved nature.

Elpidio, a former track and field athlete, helped developed his son’s body by putting him through workouts up and down the town’s tree-lined hills during his teenage years. When his father took a job as a college track coach in Puerto Rico, 14-year-old Encarnacion moved with him.

A regular on Puerto Rico all-star baseball teams, Encarnacion caught the attention of a scout who thought he had the skills for the major leagues — something he’d never previously considered. 

“I just played for fun because I liked it,” Encarnacion says. “I was never thinking about, If I’m going to play this game, I’m going to be rich, and I’m going to get my family a better life.”


The Texas Rangers selected Encarnacion as a 17-year-old in the ninth round of Major League Baseball’s 2000 amateur draft. Assigned to the Gulf Coast League, Encarnacion didn’t hit a single home run that year. 

The following season, he spent just 45 games with the Class A Savannah Sand Gnats before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds organization. Encarnacion cried when he got the news. His three Dominican teammates, however, consoled the teenager by saying at least he’d been traded in a deal for a major league pitcher.

In 2005, Encarnacion made it to the major leagues with the Reds. But in 69 games, he hit just .232 and had more errors (10) than home runs (nine) while playing third base. 

Still, Encarnacion was a regular for Cincinnati the next season and thought he’d established himself as a major leaguer. But just as his family arrived for their first major league visit, Encarnacion was demoted to the minor leagues. “I cried,” Encarnacion says. “My dad was with me, and I didn’t expect that.”

Devastated, he returned home and told his family. 

“We gathered and prayed,” Evelin says. “Those were terrible times. My dad advised him a lot. He always told him to trust himself and that he could make it.”

Family helped him through. Encarnacion and his closest siblings hold their father in high regard for the vision and discipline he created in them, even as they acknowledge his wild streak. After his marriage to their mother ended, Elpidio had 14 more children with a variety of women. The most recent girl arrived just over a year ago. The most recent boys are separated by 11 years (2 and 13).

“My dad, he doesn’t like to watch TV,” Encarnacion says with a wry smile. 

“It’s crazy. He’s …” Encarnacion pauses. “I don’t know. He took care of us. I don’t have any complaints about how he took care of all of my family. He talked to us about, ‘Don’t be like me.’ ”

Encarnacion spent the majority of the next two years in Cincinnati, slugging 26 homers in 2008. But after spending May on the disabled list with a wrist injury, Encarnacion was hitting a paltry .209 when the Reds decided to trade him and two others players July 31 to the Toronto Blue Jays. 

After the season, he underwent surgery to remove a large bone spur on his left wrist. It was successful, and he was expected to be the team’s starting third basemen in 2010. But his struggles continued. Fans dubbed him “E5” — scorer shorthand for an error on the third baseman — for his defensive woes. On Father’s Day, with his dad in town, the Jays designated him for assignment and planned to eat what remained on his $5 million salary for the rest of the year.

“I was getting frustrated,” Encarnacion says, “like, I don’t want to play anymore.” 

Any team could have claimed Encarnacion at the time but his sad batting average, lingering wrist issues, below-average fitness and continued poor defense caused all to pass. So he reported to Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas — and he prayed.

“God came to me in the night,” Encarnacion says. “He said, ‘If you do good, you’re going to be in the big league again.’ ”

Over seven games in Las Vegas, Encarnacion went 14 for 32 with three home runs and 13 RBIs and quickly returned to the majors to set up one of the league’s greatest late-career blossoms. He adjusted his swing during the 2011-12 offseason, eliminating his leg kick and keeping two hands on his follow-through for a shorter, quicker swing and body pivot.

Clearly, it has paid off. In the past five seasons, his 193 home runs ranks second only to Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. During that time, Encarnacion averaged 39 homers, 110 RBIs and a .912 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

His work over the past five seasons earned respect, including from Cleveland’s baseball scouts who saw beyond the power numbers and glimpsed an efficient, disciplined hitter who struck out less than 100 times in seven consecutive seasons until last year. 

“If he stays healthy, you can put some numbers in ink, not pencil,” says Indians manager Terry Francona. “He doesn’t rely on speed or things like that, so you shouldn’t see much regression. He’s been driving in 120 runs a year. It’s real.”


A gaggle of fans line a chain-link fence in Goodyear as Encarnacion walks toward the batting cage carrying a large duffel bag like a dumbbell for a tricep curl. A bat, constantly moving, remains in his other hand. He flips, twists, sways and stretches with his 34-inch piece of lumber until it is time to knock cowhide with it. 

At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, the little boy who once thought he was too small has become an imposing figure in the right-handed batter’s box. He plants his legs, like tree trunks, in a wide open stance — with his front foot positioned several inches to the third base side of his back foot. His hands sit almost exactly where the script “I” is stitched in his Indians jersey swaying the perpendicular bat behind him. With the pitch, he lifts his front foot backward, then slightly forward toward the plate and unfurls — unloads, really — his solid frame at the approaching white sphere. “Thwack.” 

Subtle in his good nature, Encarnacion jokes back to a catcher during batting practice about how far he hit one or how badly he missed another. “Thwack.”

He mocks himself with a headshake when a pitch turns his bat into jelly. But these moments are rare. On one field in Goodyear, the area beyond one of the right-field walls is appropriately an “airplane boneyard” for a regional airport. The area beyond the left-field wall has already become Encarnacion’s batting practice graveyard.


It’s a beautiful sight, but one that’s a little hard to get used to.

When Santana fell to his knees clutching the final out of the American League Championship Series in Toronto’s Rogers Centre, the Indians weren’t thinking about Encarnacion’s future. After losing just once in the series, the scrappy Tribe was headed to the World Series for the first time since 1997.  

Encarnacion, a three-time All-Star, was headed to free agency and a monster payday as one of the top players available in the offseason. 

Even when the Chicago Cubs overcame a 3-1 series deficit — with a little help from an unfortunate Game 7 rain delay — to claim their first World Series title in 108 years, the likelihood of Cleveland landing Encarnacion was about the same as a parrot finding its way to Edgewater Beach in December.

Traditionally, the Indians are tight with spending, preferring value free agents such as Rajai Davis’ one-year, $5.25 million contract in 2015 over splashy deals like the four-year, $110 million contract outfielder Yoenis Cespedes signed with the New York Mets this offseason.

Cleveland general manager Mike Chernoff considered Encarnacion a long shot at best. The Indians keep a file on each major leaguer, and Encarnacion was no different, especially with Mike Napoli’s free agency creating a potential hole at first base.

Toronto made an early four-year, $80 million offer to retain their designated hitter. But Encarnacion wanted to explore the market. “This was my first opportunity in free agency to secure the future for my family,” Encarnacion says.  

Within days, Toronto shifted to a $30 million deal with Kendrys Morales, another slugging designated hitter and first baseman. 

“Toronto didn’t put interest in me so I had to go to another team,” Encarnacion says. “How quick they did it, that’s when I got surprised. They took their offer off the table. So if you don’t want me, there are more teams. I was never thinking about Cleveland.”

After several teams filled their holes at first base and designated hitter, the market dwindled for Encarnacion. “I got surprised that not many teams called,” he says. “I never expected it to be like that.”

In late December, Chernoff’s patience was rewarded. An opportunity opened with Encarnacion, and Chernoff approached ownership about shedding its small-market spending approach.

“This was a way to invest in the team at the right time,” Chernoff says. “Thankfully ownership provided tremendous support to do that, beyond what any of us could’ve expected. I think they saw the momentum that had built up in the fan base and felt like this was the time to take a leap of faith in the community, the organization and the team.”

Encarnacion’s deal includes a $25 million team option for 2020 and $1 million in annual bonuses for attendance. Tickets for the home opener sold out in three minutes and ticket sales passed 1 million for the season by mid-February. “We want to be a packed house again,” Chernoff says. 

For a team that was one swing away from its first World Series championship since 1948, the Indians look like an even better team on paper with Encarnacion added, Michael Brantley back from shoulder issues, a health-restored pitching rotation and a stacked bullpen that adds free agent Boone Logan to the Andrew Miller-Bryan Shaw-Cody Allen backend lockdown.

After a 94-win season, the Indians transformed from sleeper to American League Central favorite with the AL’s No. 2-scoring offense that sees established veterans Encarnacion, Santana, Brantley and Jason Kipnis (when he returns from a shoulder injury) paired with emerging stars such as Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.

Encarnacion embraced the “Train to Reign” mentality on the club’s spring shirts. In his first conversation with Encarnacion in December, Francona asked, “What’s important to you?”

“I want to win,” he told Francona.

“Well, I think we’ve got a chance,” Francona responded. 

It was an important first step.

“He could’ve signed with anybody,” Francona says. “When the market fell back, they were ready to pounce and got it done. We typically don’t get into that neighborhood, but we got the best hitter out there because of the front office’s work and [Indians owner] Paul Dolan’s willingness to extend.”


On the Encarnacion side, the money was right but having a chance to win a World Series was a selling point. It helped that Cleveland, pitted against the Oakland Athletics during free agency, is in the same time zone as the Dominican Republic, where his 8-year-old son, Edwin Jr., lives. 

“He’s my life,” Encarnacion says.

On Valentine’s Day, Encarnacion made his big offseason complete with a wedding proposal to his girlfriend, Karen Yapoort, a model and TV personality in the Dominican Republic. Captured on Instagram, it garnered more than 85,000 likes — and one big “yes.”

Encarnacion has bonded quickly with his new teammates as well, especially Santana and Lindor. Santana, his former World Baseball Classic teammate, was the first to call him. Indians catcher Yan Gomes offered the No. 10 jersey that he wore last season.

“We usually don’t get text messages when we sign players,” Chernoff says. “We got a ton of texts and calls from our players when we signed Edwin.”

Until Santana left camp for the WBC, he and Encarnacion were quickly in tandem. The duo expect to platoon between the designated hitter and first base spots. 

And while Napoli’s outgoing leadership was one of the reasons for the team’s success in 2016, Encarnacion sets a different, more understated example, whether it’s arriving at 7 a.m. for weight room work or his approach in the batting cages. 

Talented Indians shortstop prospect Erik Gonzalez has played winter ball with Encarnacion in the Dominican and used every spring chance to watch him in the cage and glean his advice off the field.

“It’s unbelievable,” says the 25-year-old Gonzalez. “I’ve got him and Santana right there. I feel confidence and comfortable. Those guys are always calling me for hitting, dinner, a movie. That’s awesome.”

Francona feels the team’s postseason experience helped them grow as well. 

“We have enough guys after going to the seventh game of the World Series that I’m not worried about leadership,” Francona says. “It may not be one voice, but there are plenty of guys who know between right and wrong. Edwin will let his bat do the talking, and that’s OK by me.”


It took 36 spring training games, but Indians fans finally got to see the “Edwing.” In the second inning of the final exhibition game, Encarnacion launched a 428-foot blast into the left-field seats at Arizona’s Chase Field.

His signature home run trot began in 2012 when he belted a grand slam following an intentional walk in Seattle. As he rounded first base, he raised his right elbow and kept it parallel as he rounded the bases, which led to fans altering photos to place a parrot on the arm for a “walking the parrot” phenomenon.

“Edwin is the type of guy who is always very serious,” says his sister, Evelin. “When that smile comes, believe me, he’s really happy. That first interview he had when we went to spring training for Cleveland, that was his smile. That’s the one. He was happy.”

Indians fans certainly hope that feeling lasts all the way to the final out of the World Series this season.

If it does, Encarnacion plans to share it with his new and original home. His new Indians contract includes a charity component that benefits the Edwin Encarnacion Foundation. Run by his sister, the organization helps hospitals in the Dominican Republic and targets youth with medical conditions. He runs baseball clinics, donates supplies for schools and funds youth baseball leagues where “ENCARNACION 10” is on each jersey back.

Evelin hopes to extend that work by helping Cleveland’s underserved youth.

It is the sort of heart that Evelin always has known since the days when her big brother would embarrass her at the school bus stop by walking her home with an umbrella.

“It’s such an honor to say he’s my brother,” she says. “He has made it so far and he has a humble heart.”


“Yeah!” Encarnacion exclaims, still intently involved in the WBC game on the screen. The Dominicans escape trouble with a defensive gem to remain tied with Colombia.

When the conversation ends, Encarnacion joins other remaining players to watch the end of the game. There, he celebrates with his new family when the Dominicans score seven in the top of the 11th inning for the victory.

It is the sort of passion that he once used to focus on while driving bottle caps into the mango tree. It’s also what he’s brought along in pursuit of a new destination, in a new city with a new goal.

“I don’t have many years left in this game,” he says. “So I signed with the team that had the best opportunity to win the World Series.” 

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