A few fans booed when Escobar's name was announced as the lineups were read for Toronto's game against the New York Yankees. There was a mix of boos and cheers as Escobar batted in the bottom of the first inning, and he lined out.
Escobar was suspended by the team for three games earlier this month after he wore the slur written in Spanish during a game against Boston. The 29-year-old Cuban infielder later apologized and said he meant it as a joke.
Escobar caught the ceremonial first pitch from David Testo, a former MLS soccer player who is openly gay. Testo is now a board member for You Can Play, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes.
Before the game, Escobar sat down with Jose Estevez, an openly gay distance runner from Boston College, and Patrick Burke, the founder of You Can Play.
Escobar's lost salary during his three-game ban — about US$82,000 — was to be directed to You Can Play and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Burke said the 45-minute meeting was helpful for all parties.
"I think it put a face on the issue for Yunel," Burke said. "I think it humanized the issue of gay athletes for Yunel and I think Jose did a great job today."
"After meeting with him, I like Yunel," Burke said. "I think he did a stupid thing but I think he has learned from it."
Burke is the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and the older brother of the late Brendan Burke, who publicly revealed his homosexuality in November 2009. Burke died in a car accident in February 2010.
"He's really sorry for what he did and I felt the sincerity when I was talking to him," Estevez said.
The eyeblack incident created some backlash among Toronto baseball fans.
For example, an online petition asking the Blue Jays to create a You Can Play video encouraging the acceptance of homosexuals in sports has been started by openly-gay Blue Jays fan Christopher Papps.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell said he considered holding Escobar out of the lineup Thursday, but decided against it, putting him at shortstop and batting him fourth.
"He understands whatever comes his way is part of the process," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "He made a terrible mistake and is going to have to be accountable."
Following his suspension — issued after input from commissioner Bud Selig, the players' union and team management — Escobar sat out three games against the Yankees last week, returning as pinch hitter in Friday's loss at Tampa Bay.
Farrell met with Escobar at the end of his suspension to discuss what he called "baseball things." Farrell said it was not the first time the two had spoken.