The legend of La Pantera grew even larger Saturday. And he made it seem rather mundane.
"I was sitting on a soft pitch on the outside, and then this pitch was in and I had to react and swing the bat, and I think that was why I fell when I hit the ball."
Luis Robert's description of the event dramatically undersold what happened. The dude homered while he was falling down.
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Of course, Robert makes everything look easy. Why wouldn't he make it all sound easy, too?
The truth is that the much hyped Robert can do just about everything on the baseball field, and that apparently now includes sending a ball over the fence while simultaneously toppling to the ground in a somewhat cartoonish fashion. If you didn't think the hype train could move at a higher speed after he thrilled minor league audiences last season with a true five-tool display, then you weren't prepared for the highlight from Saturday's intrasquad game on the South Side that caught like wildfire across the baseball-loving sections of the internet.
Robert's arrival in the major leagues, however delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is part of the reason the White Sox look capable of making their long awaited leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode this season. He's being described as the best of the team's collection of talented youngsters and talked up as one of baseball's next superstars.
The best part of all of that for the White Sox?
"I'm glad he's on my team," said pitcher Carlos Rodón, who had the unfortunate distinction of being the guy who gave up that bananas home run.
Indeed he is on this team, and thanks to the big-money deal that paved his way to the Opening Day lineup, Robert is going to be on this team for a long time. A pair of options at the end of that contract allow for Robert to remain in a White Sox uniform through the 2027 season. Rick Hahn's always talking about keeping this team in contention mode for as long as possible. Inking Robert's name into the projected lineup for the next eight seasons surely helps.
"I'm smiling from ear to ear," White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said Saturday. "We are as an organization because we are going to have an opportunity to see this for a long period of time.
"He's an individual who you pay to go watch play. ... You can come to the ballpark and understand he has a chance to do something special every day in every aspect of his game, whether it's running, playing defense, throwing, hitting.
"What he did today, ... I saw him sitting on the ground and I was like, 'Run, run, run!' and then I realized the ball was 15 rows deep. He's a pretty special talent, and we are fortunate and lucky to have him on our side."
The question, though, doesn't seem to be how good Robert will be one day but how good he'll be from Day 1.
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Robert was expected to have a full six months in his first taste of the big leagues, expected to have time to make the kinds of adjustments Eloy Jiménez did as a rookie last season, when he started slowly only to catch fire for a white-hot month of September. Robert won't have that luxury, with the season squeezed down from its typical six-month marathon to a two-month, 60-game sprint.
But Robert doesn't seem to view that as much of a problem. Like the uber-talented White Sox youngsters who have arrived on the South Side before him, he's a confident kid. And while he's not going as far as Jiménez did in January, when the left fielder called his new center fielder "the next Mike Trout," Robert's expecting to be able to hit the ground running while seeing big league pitching for the first time.
"I am feeling very confident," he said Saturday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I feel real good right now, mentally and physically, and I think that is important. I think that's why I have been able to get the results that I've been having during this time.
"Being here facing major league pitchers, even though they are my teammates, has helped me a lot because that's an advantage for me to know what I'm going to face once the season starts.
"I don't know if I think about doing extraordinary things. I just think in terms of doing the best that I can in every aspect of the game, in every play that I'm involved in. And I think that's the reason why I've been able to do very good things. That's the reason why, I just try to do my best every time."
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Robert's presence is just one of a whole bunch of reasons the White Sox appear primed for a big jump in 2020. He's part of a remade lineup featuring veteran additions Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara. He's one of two highly touted prospects who could take over starting roles this season, along with Nick Madrigal. He's the newest addition to a White Sox core that already had its breakout season a year ago, when Jiménez, Yoán Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson did such big things.
And this is just the beginning. So many of those guys are under team control for years into the future. And so even if Robert and the White Sox don't rise to the level of World Series contenders in 2020, they're planning to do it soon — and stay there for a long while.
How good can Robert be during that stretch? The consensus seems to be that the sky is the limit. And if his wardrobe choice for his Saturday session with reporters, a LeBron James jersey, was any indication, the South Side could be in for larger-than-life superstardom.
"I think that every athlete has that in mind," he said, asked if he had designs on being as good as James, one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. "When you see what other athletes have done, whatever the sport they’re playing, it’s something that you use to motivate yourself."
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