Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Erick Aybar watched everything Rafael Furcal did and wanted to play shortstop just the way Furcal did
Erick is the younger brother of Braves and Rays infielder, Willy Aybar, who signed with the Dodgers two years before Erick turned pro
In 2003, Erick led led all minor league shortstops in hitting
Before the 2004 season, Baseball America ranked Aybar as the 8th-best prospect in the Angels organization
Aybar is fun to watch
On November 29, 2008, during a Dominican winter league game, Aybar touched off a bench-clearing brawl by charging the mound with a bat
The first incident got most of the attention. The league and an attorney contacted by some fans investigated whether the actions of Aybar and Licey teammates Ronnie Belliard and Timo Perez injured spectators during a melee that started when Aybar was hit by a pitch in the top of the eighth inning of Licey's game with the Gigantes in San Francisco de Macoris.
Aybar answered by charging pitcher Julio de Paula with his bat, and the fans responded by pelting players with expletives as well as cups, bottles and a huge plastic trash can. Video of the incident is of poor quality, but it shows several players who cannot be readily identified repeatedly throwing things into the stands.
Umpires ended the game at that point, awarding Licey the victory.
Aybar has earned a reputation as a slick-fielding shortstop who hits home runs when they are least expected.
Aybar has the name of his son, Eirein, tattooed in cursive on his right wrist. On his left wrist is that of his daughter, Nhaieri. Erick strives to be around his children as much as possible. This way, when he's on the road, he symbolically carries them with him.
September 18, 2013: Erick grew up in Bani, a small town located along the coast in the southern portion of the Dominican Republic. His neighborhood, awfully close to the river, was the most affordable to live in. In one tiny house, with aluminum panels as a roof and cheap concrete slabs on the side, crammed Aybar, his three brothers, his three sisters, and his parents, sleeping two per bed. Two or three times a year, it would rain hard, and the river would overflow, and all of the furniture would get soaked. And that tiny house would float about 100 feet, usually landing on the edge of the river with all the others.
Those were the nights Aybar would sleep at the local school, and wait for the water level to even out again, and dry up all his personal belongings, and push his house back in place until the next rainstorm. Now completing his eighth season as the Angels' shortstop, Aybar never loses sight of where he comes from.
"It makes me feel proud," he said in Spanish. "To go from nothing to everything, to get your family out of something like that and to help others in the Dominican, it's a big honor. I give any little bit I can over there. I go by there a lot when I go back, to this day. I take my car through there. The memories come back very quickly. It's as if I was there again. It makes me feel strong, because I came out of there. I worked hard. If I hadn't worked hard, I would've still been there."
And he had a strong-willed mother. Her name was Francia. She stayed home while Aybar's father worked all day, perpetually peeling pigeon peas into a bucket for mere pennies, and somehow raised seven kids with little money and a bad environment.
When Aybar signed his first professional contract in 2002 for $100,000, he gave it all to her. When he signed an extension with the Angels in April 2012—a four-year, $35 million deal that delayed his free agency until 2016—his first purchase was a Ford Explorer for his mother.
"She was always there, in good and bad times, always gave you your support," Aybar said. "When you're a kid, we'd fight all the time in school and stuff. She always disciplined us. That's a good thing. If she wouldn't have done that, I wouldn't be here." (Gonzalez - mlb.com - 9/18/13)
September 18, 2013: Aybar's older brother, Willy, was the star growing up. Willy, 10 months his senior, hasn't been in the Majors since the last of a three-year stint with the Rays in 2010, playing briefly in independent ball in '11 and in the Mexican League in '12 before spending '13 back home. But back then, it was Willy who cast a dark shadow over Erick. He was bigger, faster, stronger, and everyone in their little town knew it would be Willy that would take them out of that little house by the river one day.
In 2000, he did. At 17, six months before Erick would sign, Willy was inked to a $1.4 million contract by the Dodgers and the first thing he did was buy his mom a house in the central part of Bani, where cops patrol 24 hours a day and only the wealthiest reside. At last, the family could breathe easy. But Erick didn't see it that way.
"My brother is my brother," he recalled thinking. "That's his money. I'm going to fight and work hard to make my own living."
The kids would laugh at that thought. He was too short, way too skinny, and Willy was the star.
"Now I see them and I laugh," Aybar said, a big smile across his face. "They're my friends. They helped me. They helped me get here. They're all over there in the Dominican—and the small skinny kid is still here, playing baseball." (Gonzalez - mlb.com - 9/18/13)
Aybar has a wife, Nhachari Aybar.
"He was the guy who motivated me, always," the Angels' switch-hitting shortstop said of Jeter.
"His style of play, the kind of person he is. He's a good person," Aybar added. "You never see him upset. He's the ultimate professional. And that's what people admire, when you're a professional and you're a good person and get along with other players."
"I don't know," Aybar said. "Maybe. I'm doing OK."
Pujols is not as shy about expressing his view. "To me," King Albert said, "Erick's a great player, one of the best shortstops in the game."
Pujols, assuming Guerrero's old role as Aybar's confidante and compadre, looks to the little guy at the locker to his immediate right and sees one of the game's most underrated players. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves," Pujols said. "I've known Erick a long time, and he's always had the skills. He can do a lot of things; he's fun to watch.
"I think he's more mature as a player. You're supposed to mature as you get older. You've got to keep learning, understanding what the pitchers are trying to do to you. He's always been smart, very smart. He's learned from mistakes and is more mature in the little areas of the game." (Spencer - mlb.com - 6/23/14)
Aybar is as old school in his ways and attitudes as Trout, the irrepressible one. His positive qualities include his defense, baserunning and clutch hitting,
"I'm an aggressive player," Aybar said. "I like to hit, but I will be patient and take a walk. My job is to get on base, score runs, and drive in some when I get the chance."
"Pujols helped me get better," Aybar said. "He's shown me a lot of things." Pujols appreciates the gesture, but he waves off any kudos.
Pujols said, "He's a good listener. He doesn't turn his back on you and think he's got everything figured out. I'm just doing my job, what other people did for me when I was young [with the Cardinals]. I'm telling him to play the game the right way. I had great teammates in my career, and now it's my turn to help my teammates." (Spencer - mlb.com - 6/23/14)
November 12, 2015: After being traded to the Braves, Aybar was asked about his favorite memory with the Angels. "Everything," Aybar said. "That is where I grew."
The Angels signed Aybar out of the Dominican Republic in 2002, and not long after that they saw him evolve into a fixture at shortstop and one of their toughest, most respected clubhouse leaders. He won a Gold Glove in 2011 and made the All-Star team in 2014. But he is also a free agent after the 2016 season, and the Angels needed to find a long-term solution at shortstop.
"One day you're here, the next day you have no idea where you're going," Erick said, in Spanish, during a phone conversation. "That's how it is. Every team is always looking to better itself."
Aybar previously delayed his free agency and signed a team-friendly four-year, $35 million deal in April 2012. But he had no interest in taking another hometown discount before what could very well be his last chance to cash in on free agency. So Aybar prepared for the 2016 season to be his last with the Angels. The fact he was moved before then "shocked me," Aybar said. He leaves with positive memories.
"I was a kid when I got there," Aybar said. "It's a blessing from God to be there for so many years, coming up through their Minor League system, getting so much support. It's a blessing. I'm going to miss the guys there. I'm going to miss [Mike] Trout, [Kole] Calhoun, Albert [Pujols]. Albert, for me, was huge. He was like a father figure, always there with me, in good and bad times, along with Trout and Calhoun. [Jered] Weaver—we were together for such a long time, and I wish him all the best, too."
Aybar would typically be back in his native Dominican Republic, but his wife is due to give birth to the couple's third child, a girl. Soon after that, Aybar will start getting ready for a far different Major League season. After 10 years with an Angels team that was perennially in win-now mode, Aybar, one of the game's fiercest competitors, will be on a rebuilding team that is already looking beyond 2016.
"That's fine," Aybar said. "The Angels were always right there, trying to win. But now I'm just going to focus on Atlanta, give them 100 percent of what I have and try to win as much as we can." (A Gonzalez - MLB.com - November 12, 2015)
Erick experienced a brief scare when he was transported to a Pittsburgh medical facility to have a chicken bone removed from his throat. But he fortunately returned a couple of hours later fully capable of discussing a story that simply adds to the many oddities the Braves have experienced this season.
Medical personnel sedated Aybar before attempting to remove the bone. But it was quickly realized that the bone had already dislodged itself. "The poor guy had to be scared to death," said Snitker, who became the Braves' interim manager this week. "He looked OK when he left, but he wasn't speaking real well."
After arriving at PNC Park for that night's game, Aybar began coughing and feeling some discomfort in his throat. He informed the Braves' medical staff and was immediately transported to a nearby medical facility. (Bowman - MLB.com - 5/19/16)
2002: Aybar signed was signed by Angels scouts Leo Perez, Clay Daniel, and Donny Rowland for a bonus of $100,000.
February 18, 2010: Aybar and the Angels avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to a one-year, $2.05 million contract for 2010.
January 18, 2011: Erick and the Angels agreed on a $3 million contract for 2011, avoiding arbitration.
January 17, 2012: Aybar and the Angels again avoided salary arbitration, agreeing on a one-year contract for $5.075 million.
April 18, 2012: Erick and the Angels agreed on a four-year, $35 million contract extension.
November 12, 2015: The Braves sent SS Andrelton Simmons and C Jose Briceno to the Angels; the Braves received Aybar, LHP Sean Newcomb, RHP Christopher Ellis, and cash.
Aug 16, 2016: The Braves traded Aybar to the Tigers for SS Mike Aviles and C Kade Scivicque.
Nov 3, 2016: Aybar chose free agency.
Feb., 2017: Erick signed with the Padres.
Nov 2, 2017: Erik elected free agency.