White Sox

Offseason trip to Cuba ‘very huge’ for Jose Abreu and family

Offseason trip to Cuba ‘very huge’ for Jose Abreu and family

PHILADELPHIA -- He is ecstatic about next month’s trip back to Cuba, but Jose Abreu is even happier for the rest of his family.

The White Sox slugger said Wednesday afternoon that he recently secured a green card that will allow himself, his wife and his parents to travel back and forth between Cuba. With 11 games left in the season, Abreu, who is hitting .300 with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs this season, said he wouldn’t allow himself to think too much about the possibilities of the four-day vacation because he wants to stay focused on the regular season. But Abreu, who also returned to Cuba last offseason as part of a Major League Baseball goodwill tour, said the upcoming visit would mean everything to his parents, who haven’t returned to Cuba since they joined him in the United States during his rookie season in 2014.

“I’m almost speechless,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I don’t want to think about it now because I want to finish strong here and I don’t want to lose my mind. But that’s going to be something very, very huge for us because it’s an opportunity, not just for me, but for my parents, too, to go back and be with their parents. That’s something you can’t describe. “I don’t know (what the emotions will be like), but I very much believe it’ll be something exciting for all of us.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Abreu said improved relations between the United States and Cuba are a big reason he is free to return home and visit much sooner than he originally expected. Players who defect from Cuba normally are restricted from returning for at least eight years.

But during the December trip Abreu learned he could return in the future as long as he received the proper documentation. Abreu did that with the help of his agent Diego Bentz, of the Independent Sports & Entertainment agency.

It’s similar to a work visa Abreu’s friend, comedian Luis Silva, received as part of a cultural exchange between Cuba and the United States that permits him to travel back and forth for work.

Abreu said President Barack Obama’s visit in March -- when the Tampa Bay Rays played Team Cuba in Havana -- has helped the Cuban government realize players aren’t trying to make political statements by leaving.

“Our goal is just to try and help represent our country and get the best we can in what we are doing,” Abreu said. “That (visit) has helped to pave the way for us to come back.”

A return trip home last December allowed Abreu to visit many people he wondered if he’d ever see again. He had a chance to reunite with his 6-year-old son, Dariel -- who also recently was granted a visa that allows him to travel to the United States to see his father -- as well as family and friends. Abreu can’t wait for his parents to experience the same opportunity as he did.

“That will be the kind of interaction we can have now with our country,” Abreu said. “We can go back. We can visit our family and we can return. That’s good because all of our families are there and we need to see them, we need to visit them and we need to take care of them and now we can do it. But also we can come back here and that’s something why we have to be grateful with this country, too. It’s not just that they welcome us with open arms, it’s that they are always working in the way to allow us to go back to our country, too.”

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

As the White Sox have added young Cuban stars in the making in Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, Jose Abreu's long-term role on the team has shifted.

The 31-year-old first baseman has been looked at as something of a mentor for the two young Cubans. He seems to be delivering on that so far.

Abreu picked up Moncada from the airport when he first was called up to the White Sox last July. Now he's helping Robert in the batting cage.

The Cuban trio is expected to play a big part of the White Sox future in the coming years. 

Robert has already stated his goal of making it to the majors this year to join Abreu and Moncada, but that may be an overly ambitious goal. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on him throughout 2018 as he marches towards the White Sox roster and his Cuban teammates.