BRIDGEPORT, CT – Inside the Bridgeport Bluefish clubhouse, Esteban Yan is not the same overbearing, hard throwing fastball pitcher that he is on the pitching mound. The six-foot-four inch, 250 pounder is known for his powerful fastball, splitter combination that has struck out 553 Major League hitters in eleven seasons. Now in his 19th season of professional baseball, the 33-year-old Dominican native brings plenty of experience to the Bluefish, but there is one experience in particular that brings a smile to Yan and those who witness his reenactment of it.
Laughing like a kid in a candy store, Yan moves his arms in a swinging motion in front of teammate Luis Lopez with a gloating smile from cheek to cheek. His pearly whites gleaming, Yan moves his legs up and down in a running motion to show how he kept running at full speed towards second base, continuously laughing about the first at bat of his career.
It was June 4, 2000 when Yan became the 77th Major Leaguer to homer in his first at-bat and the first pitcher since Don Rose of the 1972 Angels when he blasted the first pitch he saw from New York Mets pitcher Bobby Jones in an interleague matchup at Shea Stadium. Yan became the fourth AL pitcher all-time to homer in his first at-bat.
“I didn’t realize I had hit a home run until I got to second base,” said Yan. “When I got to second base, I asked myself, ‘What am I doing? I have to slow down.’ I felt very excited after that.”
Yan went on to win the game as well, striking out three and giving up four runs and five hits in five innings pitched. In his only other at-bat in his major league career, Yan hit a single in 2003 as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
His ability to split his personality from an intimidating pitcher to a jolly-minded teammate has helped Yan make his first season of Atlantic League baseball an enjoyable and successful one.
When asked about what Esteban Yan brings to the Bluefish, manager Tommy John jokes, “Weight. Girth. Smiles.” John, now more composed after a good minute’s worth of laughing, says, “He’s just a hilarious guy. He is always laughing in the clubhouse with the rest of the guys.”
Yan has been on a tear as of late, recording his fourth straight quality start in yesterday’s 3-2 extra innings victory over the Long Island Ducks. On just 81 pitches, Yan allowed two earned runs on eight hits and one walk. After giving up two runs in the first inning, Yan settled down and easily handled the Ducks lineup, the best hitting team in the Atlantic League. Yan allowed just four hits over his last six innings.
“I’m feeling very good right now,” said Yan. “I’m trying to do my best, and pitch as best I can to get back to the big leagues. The only way you can do that is by pitching as much as you can.”
With the performance, Yan now has a 2.68 ERA in 47 innings pitched this season. In his previous outing on May 29 at Southern Maryland, Yan pitched a complete game shutout on 99 pitches. Against Lancaster on May 24, he fanned a season high eight batters in eight innings.
“He has a good fastball, maybe one of the better fastballs in this league,” said John. “I think he would be a great closer because he is a two pitch pitcher.”
Yan has been both a starter and a reliever during his major league career. In 217 major league games (118 starts), Yan has recorded 33 victories, 51 saves, and 553 strikeouts in 695 innings of work.
Even though he is set on being a starter for now, Yan has not shot down the opportunity of returning to the show as a reliever.
“Well, why not? I can get another opportunity to be perfect,” said Yan.
The last time baseball fans saw Yan at the highest level was in 2006 for the Cincinnati Reds, where he posted a 3.60 ERA in 14 games. The following season, Yan played for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. In Japan, Yan set the Nippon Pro Baseball record for balks in a season with 12.
“Those umpires are terrible. They like to really key on foreign pitchers for balks. He [umpire] tried to make me get out of games early by calling balks” said Yan.
Yan’s claim may be true, as in his 217 major league games he has only been called for two balks and hasn’t had a balk on American soil since 2002.
Now with the Bluefish, Yan is trying to catch the eyes of scouts to give him another shot at baseball’s highest level.
“To tell you the truth, but every day I had in the Major Leagues was the best moment in my life,” said Yan.
If no scouts find him, maybe Matt Groening will just put him in another episode of The Simpsons.
With another smile, Yan says about his appearance in the cartoon, “It was very nice. It was good.”