Yoan Moncada was arriving in his new town and texted a friend to see if he could pick him up at the airport.
Who was Jose Abreu to say no?
So when baseball’s top prospect arrived at O'Hare on Wednesday, a familiar face was already there waiting. Teammates previously for Cienfuegos and now again with the White Sox, Moncada said he and Abreu are in a “unique” position, one the veteran first baseman absolutely relishes. Abreu wants to be there for the young second baseman and thought there was no better way to display that then to pick him up at the airport on the day Moncada is set to make his White Sox debut.
“It was a good ride,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “We got a little bit nervous because the traffic was bad, but it was good. He’s going to do great here. He’s an outstanding player, and I’m going to be here right by his side to help him in anything that he needs help. Of course, he’s going to have some butterflies flying around his stomach the first game and probably during the first week or so, but I’m going to be there for him.”
Moncada, 22, has known Abreu since the first baseman was Cuba’s superstar player, the man everyone simply referred to as “Pito.” The two met when Moncada was 15 and they began to play together for Cienfuegos in 2012. Abreu was 25 at the time.
Moncada played 56 games that season.
“That was an outstanding experience for me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was glad to see him there and we talked a little about everything — nothing in specific.
“It means a lot to me because we played together in Cuba. We met in Cuba. And now to have the opportunity to play here together it’s unique. I’m really happy for that.”
White Sox manager Rick Renteria is also pleased with how the O'Hare Shuttle worked out. He knows Abreu is aware how important his mentorship can be for Moncada and likes how he immediately reached out.
“Talk about leadership,” Renteria said. “He’s an individual who has been with the White Sox for a few years and is from a very similar background. Cuba, playing at the major league level, he wanted to make sure he had direct contact with him and make sure to kind of lay the foundation, to kind of give a sense of what is going on from someone who has been around.”
Moncada has a sense about life in the big leagues after he spent a month in the majors last season with the Red Sox during the pennant race. Playing a new position, Moncada struck out 12 times in 20 plate appearances over eight games.
“You have to be consistent in this game,” Moncada said. “You have to find a consistent approach and also you have to try to enjoy the game.”
Moncada sounds as if he’s ready to appreciate the moment on Wednesday. He said he could feel the excitement in pregame when he was surrounded by more than two dozen media members. The White Sox also reportedly sold an extra 2,500 tickets after the announcement of Moncada’s promotion was made at 11 p.m. on Tuesday.
He and Abreu didn’t enjoy the traffic and construction on the way back from O'Hare. But everything else has been pretty good.
“I’m happy,” Moncada said. “I’m trying to enjoy the moment and enjoy this opportunity. I’m in the big leagues right now and this is where I want to be.”