White Sox

One year later, White Sox recall baseball's most surreal game

One year later, White Sox recall baseball's most surreal game

BALTIMORE -- One year ago, three days of civil unrest and confusion resulted in the White Sox playing in one of the more bizarre games in major league history.

After city-wide riots in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death resulted in a city-wide curfew as well, the calling of the National Guard and two cancelled games, the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles became the first teams in Major League History to play a contest that was closed to the public.

No fans were allowed inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which provided a surreal backdrop that Wednesday afternoon as the Orioles crushed the White Sox 8-2.

Whether it was the lack of background noise, the audible cheers of a group of several dozen fans outside the park or the idea that baseball was played in a city where so much remained uncertain, with armed guardsmen stationed just outside the park, players involved have very distinct memories of what would have normally been a nondescript contest.

“You could hear everything,” said pitcher Carlos Rodon, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning in only the second appearance of his big league career. “I remember listening to Adam Jones out in the outfield, just like calling his own game out there like he was the umpire.

“Just real quiet. Almost like backyard baseball.”

White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton remembers he felt conflicted about playing. The White Sox had arrived in town late Sunday night, only a day after unrest outside the ballpark resulted in a smashed window at one of the venue’s restaurants.

While the area around the ballpark and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor had quieted down by Monday morning, events began to reignite that afternoon about 4-5 miles from Camden Yards.

By the time players hit the field for stretch and batting practice, police helicopters could be seen hovering in the background, sirens blared everywhere and Eaton remembers he could smell smoke from some of the fires that had been set. Monday’s game was quickly cancelled and players were ushered back to their hotel by security personnel.

Stuck in their hotel, players remember seeing from their rooms the orange glow of some of the more than 200 fires set to structures and vehicles. They awoke the next morning to the arrival Maryland Army National Guard trucks, whose armed troops lined the Inner Harbor and key points around the city.

By early Tuesday, officials from both teams tried to determine what to do. Whereas most games’ start times are determined by either the home team, umpires or MLB, this time the White Sox were also included in the process. The teams considered several options, including moving the series to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Various start times and scenarios were also also considered for the game’s start to avoid playing after the 10 p.m. EST curfew was put in place.

“We kind of looked if we wanted to play in Chicago, play here and if there was a way to avoid coming back and doing another trip,” White Sox traveling secretary Ed Cassin said. “This was kind of a special case. There was a lot of people involved.”

Manager Robin Ventura was involved in the process so he could give his players an idea of what to expect. What stands out to Ventura is how nobody made their way to the ballpark on Tuesday to check into the clubhouse or workout, etc.

Instead, players stayed in their hotel rooms and watched movies or played video games, just waiting on word of the next step.

“As a major league player or staff, you never go that many days without getting on the field, especially during the season,” Ventura said. “You didn’t do anything. You kind of just watched the news to see what was going on. That part was eerie in a way because nobody goes through that. Last time something like that was 9/11.”

Ultimately, the decision was made to play Wednesday afternoon and make up the other games in a May 29 doubleheader. While pregame activities weren’t out of the ordinary, everything changed once the game began. Players took the field for the national anthem and found the park to be empty aside from several scouts in the stands. Orioles players faked flipping balls to fans in the stands, high fiving fans and signing autographs.

But everything else was dead silent save for the crack of the bat, balls hitting the catcher’s mitt and the sound of Orioles announcer Gary Thorne booming from the announcer’s booth above when Chris Davis blasted a three-run homer in the first off Jeff Samardzija.

“We were here, it got canceled, and the next day we were like, ‘Hey we’re canceled,’” Eaton said. “Are we going to fly back tonight? Are we going to go tomorrow? What do we do? Do we play the third game?

“Not that we didn’t feel right playing, but to be honest, we didn’t feel right playing at the time because there were lives on the line and being were rioting, a lot of chaos going on in the city. But as a professional, you had to sit back and say, my job is to go out and play baseball today, and that’s what I’ve got to do in any circumstance, and that’s what we did.

“It was just super weird.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”