Jeff Francoeur is gullible.
At least that’s what his El Paso Chihuahuas teammates found out.
“They crushed me,” said Francoeur, who signed with the San Diego Padres organization on March 25.
He was assigned to Triple-A El Paso, where he had his first meeting with Chihuahuas manager Pat Murphy.
Murphy welcomed him to the team and the organization. He told Francoeur he was joining a competitive team with good players.
Murphy also added that one of the team’s pitchers, Jorge Reyes, is deaf.
And so it began. For nearly three weeks, Francoeur was convinced that his new teammate was deaf.
But it was a hoax, an elaborate prank constructed by Chihuahuas first baseman Cody Decker, and was the basis for Decker’s latest short film “On Jeff Ears.”
For nearly a month, teammates and coaches — and a host of others — convinced Francoeur that Reyes was deaf. Reyes even abstained from using his usual headphones on road trips to keep up the ruse.
A YouTube video shows exactly how it all unfolded, and it definitely garnered an audience — as of Sunday afternoon, the video had reached about 400,000 hits on YouTube.
“It got me good. I’m a jokester; I usually get guys, but they definitely got me on this one,” said Francoeur, who was 0 for 3 in El Paso’s 6-4 loss Sunday to Reno at Kino Stadium. “It’s unbelievable. To be able to get away with it that long — I didn’t think that would happen to me.”
And to no one’s surprise, it was Decker’s brainchild.
Last season with the Tucson Padres, Decker — a member of the Screen Actors Guild and a frequent YouTube video creator — made a video titled “Brad,” which basically showed Padres players and Murphy talking to — and about — a cardboard cutout of longtime major-league catcher Brad Ausmus as if it were actually Ausmus.
That video garnered 10,000-plus views.
This one, posted Saturday, has already lapped it, and then some.
“I thought this could catch on because of who Jeff is, and the prank is really funny,” Decker said. “But I didn’t expect to blow up like this this fast. He was such a good sport. He’s just the greatest guy ever. … It’s great how he treats people. He treats people like how I want to treat people, but I’m incapable because I’m a high-functioning sociopath.”
Francoeur was caught so off-guard by the video — his reaction can be seen at the end of “On Jeff Ears” — and so impressed by it, that he bought his teammates a steak dinner at Outback.
“Pranks are a part of minor-league baseball,” Murphy said. “We didn’t mean to offend anyone, so hopefully we didn’t. But it was between the team, and it was a pretty fun thing.
“Jeff is a pro. He’s a wonderful influence. He’s a great teammate, he’s got great energy, he’s wonderful.”
Talk to anybody about Francoeur, in fact, and they’ll respond similarly. Great teammate, great personality, big smile.
When he was with the Kansas City Royals in 2010, he helped himself to an unsuspecting fan’s popcorn in foul territory.
One time, he sent 20 pizzas to fans in right field in Oakland. Also with Kansas City, he tossed a $100 bill into the stands with a note that said “Buy some beer, on me.”
“It’s a long season with tough travel,” Francoeur said, “and to be able to have some fun like that is a pretty cool thing.”
He keeps it loose, and for a guy that’s bounced around the league in recent years, it’s a welcome sight.
He started off his career nicely with the Atlanta Braves in his first 2ƒ seasons, hitting 62 home runs and driving in 253 runs. He twice led the league in outfield assists — he’s known for his cannon arm — and earned a Gold Glove in 2007. But he’s bounced around since 2009. He was traded to the Mets, then the Rangers, signed with the Royals, was cut by the Royals, signed with the Giants, got cut by the Giants, signed with the Indians. He got cut by them in spring training before finally signing a minor-league deal with the Padres.
Now he’s just trying to get back to the majors, and trying to enjoy himself along the way.
Oh, and you can be sure he hasn’t forgotten about Decker.
“I’ll get him back eventually,” he said, smiling. “But it’ll be quiet, and silent.”