José Abreu has always kept the faith.
He's never played for a White Sox team with a winning record, but while playing through the last three rebuilding seasons — where the losses piled up to a combined 284 — Abreu never wavered in his belief that brighter days were around the corner. He spent the 2019 season heaping praise on Rick Hahn's rebuilding effort, practically giving away in the months before free agency that there was only one place he would consider continuing his major league career: on the South Side of Chicago.
Well, he's back, with a new multi-year contract in tow, ready to finally see his team make the leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. There's good reason to believe all the promises Abreu made last season will come true. "I know we are going to be very, very good," he said after hitting that walk-off homer last July. Then the young core of Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito broke out in a big way. Then Hahn's front office went and added Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and other veterans with winning experience. Then Luis Robert got a big-money deal to pave his way to the majors.
It finally looks like Abreu's words are coming true. But the man with all the faith knows it's only possible if these White Sox do it themselves.
"It’s on us," he said Sunday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "We have to keep our focus and do our work and our job to perform and to do the things we all know we can do and to keep that excitement level that we had through spring training.
"I don’t have any doubt we are going to do it. It’s something we have to work on and to keep our focus on that."
Those words are really no surprise coming from Abreu, lauded in the White Sox clubhouse for his work ethic and his preparation. He's passed those values on to Moncada and Jiménez. Robert figures to be the next member of the Abreu mentorship program. Part of the reason these White Sox appear ready to do big things is that Abreu has pointed them in the right direction.
All the good feelings that flowed out of Camelback Ranch during spring training seemed warranted. The White Sox seemed to be on the precipice of contention.
“I think it's just about time for us to start winning,” Abreu said in February. “It's just that time for us to start winning games and start to be relevant.
“The team that the front office put together, we're going to be able to do it. We have to be united. We need to be strong in good times and bad times if we want to be successful this season. With the guys that we have right now, that's something that's doable. That's our goal.
“I think expectations are high because we all know that this is the time for us to win.”
A lot has changed since then.
Baseball's typical 162-game marathon has been squeezed down to a 60-game sprint to the postseason by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the White Sox are participating in "Summer Camp" workouts while the pandemic continues to grip American life. The White Sox themselves announced Sunday that two players tested positive for COVID-19 prior to workouts starting. Players around the league are opting out of the season, and the game's best player, Mike Trout, remains undecided about whether he'll play or not this season. Outside the walls of major league ballparks, the number of cases is rising in many states.
Still, though, the White Sox remain confident that they'll be able to accomplish what they set out to accomplish in spring training, even though they enter a season just 60 games long and full of unknowns.
"I think our goals are going to be the same and our expectations are going to be the same," Abreu said Sunday. "Of course, in spring training we were preparing for 162 games. Now, it’s just 60. But I think if we keep up with our work and keep doing what we were doing there, we are going to be able to do the same in the 60-game season."
Abreu's obviously not alone in that opinion, with Moncada, Jiménez, Keuchel, Hahn and Rick Renteria sharing similar thoughts in recent days.
It's been tough for White Sox fans to get so amped up for the most anticipated season of South Side baseball in years, only for the pandemic to take it away. Even with the season scheduled to happen at the moment, White Sox players have a lot of challenges ahead of them.
But it doesn't appear that recapturing the excitement or reestablishing high expectations are among them.
As long as they put in the work, Abreu style.
The White Sox announced Sunday that two players tested positive for COVID-19 during the team's testing of players, staff and front-office members.
The two players were not named, and both requested privacy, meaning the White Sox are not able to comment further.
Both players were asymptomatic, according to the team, and they have been isolated in Chicago under monitoring by White Sox medical staff. The team added that contact tracing was conducted and that the players will receive follow-up testing in the coming days. According to Major League Baseball's health and safety protocol, the two players will need to test negative twice and pass other appropriate protocols before returning to work.
"The health of our players and staff is our top priority, and the White Sox are adhering to all MLB health and safety protocols," the team's announcement read.
This is a reality facing teams across the league right now. While Major League Baseball announced seemingly encouraging numbers last week, with 38 positive tests among more than 3,100 samples, teams are increasingly making their own testing numbers known. Just Saturday, the Atlanta Braves saw multiple players test positive, including All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Similarly, players, including some big names, have started opting out of the 2020 season due to concerns over the health risks involved with playing. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price became the biggest name yet to do so Saturday, and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey are weighing whether they will participate this season or not.
Saturday, White Sox manager Rick Renteria talked about what the team is doing to follow the league's health and safety rules and brought up the reality that a positive test would come.
"We've talked to our players in terms of being mindful as to what they're doing away from the ballpark, what they're exposing themselves to," he said. "The protocol is to try to mitigate, obviously, infection. It'd be truly foolish for me to say that it won't happen, but we're going to try and help it not happen. And that's all we can do."
The White Sox will now continue preparing for the season knowing that two of their own are dealing with the virus.