Veteran 3B calls teammates 'my family,' ready to contribute on field
By Jesse Sanchez
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Juan Uribe loves Juan Uribe, and everybody loves the Juan Uribes.
Last month, the boisterous crowd at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, erupted when 9-year-old Juan Uribe Jr., dressed in a New York Mets uniform, stepped into the batter's box to take his cuts in a home-run derby against the likes David Ortiz Jr. and Francisco Cordero Jr.
The cheers rose to a crescendo when the elder Uribe, standing on the field near the third-base line, waved to crowd and hopped up and down. Social media went crazy when photos of the father and son embracing after the event surfaced online.
Welcome to the life of Uribe, the Indians starting third baseman and a 36-year-old kid at heart. The two-time World Series champ could end up being a crucial part of the Indians' clubhouse like he has been in almost every one of his previous six stops in the big leagues. This year, Uribe is holding down the third-base position while young third baseman Giovanny Urshela, who is waiting in the wings, continues to develop.
"These guys in this clubhouse are not just teammates, they are my family and I treat them that way," Uribe said in Spanish. "We have to be here for each other. That's one of the special things about being a baseball player. I'm not a perfect person, but I try every day to be a good person and think people see that."
But make no mistake, Uribe is more than just a positive presence in the clubhouse. He still has bat speed and can field. On defense, Uribe turned in one Defensive Run Saved and had a 2.3 UZR/150 in 733 1/3 innings at third base in 2015.
During the course of his 15-year career, Uribe has played for the Rockies, White Sox, Giants, Dodgers, Braves and Mets. Last season, he hit .253 with 14 home runs, 43 RBIs and a .737 OPS in 119 games for Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York. He won a World Series with the White Sox in 2005 and the Giants in 2010.
"We got a kid in here that has played on winners and is really a good guy in the clubhouse, especially with some of the younger Latin kids. But it doesn't just have to be Latin," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
"But I think it's easier for kids to maybe look up to a guy like that, so I think he helps in a number of ways. He still has bat speed, which is good. He may not be ready to run the marathon, but he's got bat speed and he catches the ball."
Uribe signed with the Indians late last month, although he had been targeted by the club early in the offseason. The veteran's arrival in camp was delayed because of visa issues, and he's expected to return to the Dominican Republic sometime this weekend to finalize his paperwork. Uribe hopes to only miss few days of camp, but he's not sure how he will be out of the country.
As for Urshela, 24, he played above-average defense while hitting .225 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 81 games for the Indians last season. He's already overcome a knee injury, a back issue and a right shoulder problem during his young career.
"I'm working on improving my offense and being a more consistent fielder and hitter," Urshela said in Spanish. "Having a guy here like Uribe helps. He's a veteran that's been around a lot and has done a lot in this game. I feel like I've already learned a lot about the game being around him."
Uribe, who turns 37 on March 22, said he's not sure how long he wants to play, but that his body will tell him when it's time to step away from the game. Right now, his body is telling him things are just fine, he said.
"I respect this game. I love baseball," Uribe said. "I've always been a believer that money can come and money can go, but how you treat people and the type of person you are will be with you forever. It's been very important to me, and I believe in this game that you always have to leave every door open and have relationships with every team you play for. I thank God that I have been able to have this career that I am having, and I'm not ready to stop yet."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.