Since coming to the United States in 2013, life has been pretty good for White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.
He’s one of only two players (Albert Pujols being the other) who has hit at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI in their first two seasons in the majors. He won Rookie of the Year in 2014, became a fan favorite on the South Side, getting arguably the loudest cheer at SoxFest 2016 when he was announced at the Opening Ceremony and, on a personal note, got married in November.
But in his two years in the majors, there was one thing Abreu, who turned 29 today, had yet to check off his list: return to Cuba.
Accomplishing that feat was easier said than done for Abreu. Cuba prohibited defectors like Abreu from returning to the country for at least eight years. But MLB and the Cuban government were able to construct a good-will tour that allowed players on the trip to return to Cuba and see their families. CSN was able to document Abreu’s emotional return in “Going Home: Jose Abreu” as he received a welcome fit for a king. “Pito,” as he’s known in Cuba, said he’s very grateful for everyone who made the trip happen.
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“It's a beautiful, beautiful feeling," Abreu said through a translator. "We have a lot of loved ones who we had to leave behind at some point in order to fulfill my dream to play professional baseball but the most important thing is that I got to come back and I thank God everyone is doing well”
Abreu’s 2015 season (30 HR 101 RBI .290 BA) in some ways was even more impressive than his rookie year (36 HR 107 RBI .317 BA). Pitchers now had enough film on the White Sox slugger to figure out the right way to approach facing him and Abreu was also surrounded by an offense that took a step back in 2015.
White Sox GM Rick Hahn made a concerted effort to improve the lineup this offseason adding bats like third baseman Todd Frazier, who won the Home Run Derby, and second baseman Brett Lawrie, who hit more home runs than anyone else on the White Sox in 2015 outside of Abreu. Frazier, in particular, has Abreu excited for the potential of the team’s lineup this year.
“Everyone knows about the importance of having a guy like Todd on the White Sox," Abreu said. "We are familiar with his skill set and believe me, he is very important to us. We couldn’t be happier to have him on this team.”
Nobody associated with the White Sox liked the taste of how last season ended (which was made even more clear by a few faint boos from fans during introductions at the Opening Ceremony). For Abreu, the next task to cross off on his list of accomplishments is to help lead his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“For our team the most important thing is to compete," Abreu said. "Compete day by day and believe in what we can accomplish as a team. We have a good core of players. Personally I just want to stay healthy and obtain good results.
“Believe me my batteries are charged 100 percent and I am ready to give my all this upcoming season.”