To be honest, it wasn't terribly surprising to see Edwin Encarnación blast a home run out to center field during Thursday's intrasquad game at Guaranteed Rate Field.
After all, that's the reason the 37-year-old slugger is here. He's smashed at least 30 homers in each of the last eight seasons, including two spent as a member of the division-rival Cleveland Indians. Rick Hahn inked Encarnación to provide some big-time pop to the middle of a White Sox lineup looking to swing its way out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode in 2020.
But for all the homers he's hit, Encarnación is still drumming up plenty of excitement every time he sends one out. Mostly because of the parrot.
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Encarnación's signature home run celebration involves miming that he has a parrot on his arm while he rounds the bases. It's hilarious and a great deal of baseball fun.
So when he teed off on an Aaron Bummer pitch Thursday, there's just one thing his teammates wanted to see. They started screaming at him from the dugout, "Parrot! Parrot! Do the parrot!"
He obliged, sticking that arm out as he rounded second base, even moving it up and down on the way to third, much to the delight of everyone in that third-base dugout. There wasn't a crowd in the stands, but the crowd in the dugout went wild.
"The parrot made an appearance on the South Side!" White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said joyously after the intrasquad showdown wrapped.
Coincidentally, Encarnación chatted with the media just one day earlier and was asked about the health of his imaginary feathered friend.
"I think the parrot is still alive, it's still on my elbow," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "Hopefully when the season starts, you're going to see it very often."
Well, the season hasn't even started yet, and we've already got a parrot sighting.
Bird or no bird, Encarnación's presence in the middle of the White Sox lineup is extremely important. While the roster around him and fellow veteran slugger Jose Abreu is full of youthful potential and thrilling promise, Encarnacion, one of a slew of veteran additions made by Hahn's front office during the winter, brings reliability to the proceedings. There are plenty of reasons to anticipate big things from Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and the rest of the team's young hitters. The White Sox know what they're getting from Encarnación.
After ranking 25th out of 30 teams in both home runs and slugging percentage last season, the White Sox needed some heft. In Encarnación, they've got it.
"It gives us depth. It lengthens an extremely good lineup. It was a good lineup before. It makes it extremely longer," McEwing said. "And the professionalism, Eddie, you can’t put a number on it. You can’t put a measure on it, what he means to this ballclub, not just in the clubhouse but on the field.
"When he steps in the box, it’s a presence, that model of consistency in what he has done throughout his career and what he’s capable of doing. It means so much to every individual in that locker room, and every time we step on the field, it’s a different presence."
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As for the pitcher who gave the home run up Thursday, don't fret about any damaging effects for Bummer. He's equally thrilled by what this lineup looks like with Encarnación in it.
"I'm just glad he's on our side now," he said of the former division rival. "I'm glad he's on our side, and I'm glad that he got one (off me) when it didn't count.
"It's just kind of fun to watch. ... You see the lineup we're putting out there. I walked in, it was Abreu, Encarnación, Eloy. It's not going to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has gotten a whole lot longer, and I'm glad that they're all on our side."
It's a stark contrast inside the stadium, the difference between the mostly silent moments without fans in the stands and the incredibly entertaining moments when the players start talking and you can hear everything they say. It seems the latter could make for some added fun for TV viewers when the regular-season games are broadcast.
Thursday, there was no missing those screams: "Do the parrot!"
It's a good bet we haven't seen the last of Encarnación's avian acquaintance this year.
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