GLENDALE, Ariz. — Eleven years ago, a young boy named Eloy Jimenez visited the United States for the very first time.
Playing on a traveling baseball team in Santo Domingo, he boarded a plane with his teammates from the Dominican Republic and headed to a faraway city almost 2,000 miles to the north.
The destination was Chicago.
Flying over the vast metropolis, the 11-year-old Jimenez gazed out the airplane window, surveyed the massive skyline and something hit him.
He saw his future.
“One day I’m going to be here. That was the first thing in my mind. I don’t know why I think that, but it was one of my dreams,” Jimenez said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast.
Most kids his age might see a city that big and be frightened by the enormity of it. Not Eloy.
“It was one of my dreams to come to Chicago because Sammy Sosa played in Chicago. Jim Thome and Frank Thomas played in Chicago,” Jimenez explained.
When Jimenez was 14, he watched Thome hit his 600th career home run on television. As Thome rounded the bases for that milestone homer, Jimenez envisioned another player doing the same in the future.
“I remember I was a little kid, and I said, ‘Wow, that’s special for him,’” Jimenez recalled. “I said, ‘One day it could be special for me, too.‘’’
Soon after the White Sox acquired Jimenez from the Cubs in 2017, one of the first White Sox representatives Jimenez spoke to was Thome. It’s a conversation Jimenez remembers vividly.
“He said, ‘It’s nice to meet you, I’m Jim Thome,’” Jimenez recalled. “I said, ‘I know who you are. I’m Eloy Jimenez.’”
Then Thome said something to Jimenez that still leaves the White Sox prospect floored more than two years later.
“Thome said, ‘I know who you are.’ I said, ‘You know who I am?’ Someone from the Hall of Fame tells me 'I know who you are,' and I don’t even play in the big leagues? That was special for me.”
With Jimenez knocking on the door to the majors, special times could be coming soon for the White Sox. Walk inside their spring training clubhouse and you will see three lockers right in a row: Jimenez, Micker Adolfo and Luis Basabe.
The three outfield prospects are often inseparable. They not only play baseball together, they eat and play video games as a trio away from the facility.
They also share the same dream.
“We talk hitting and defense, but most importantly we talk about how it’s going to be when we win the World Series. That’s most of the time what we talk about,” Jimenez said.
How often do they talk about it?
“Pretty much every day. We are excited to see it, and we can’t wait.”
Jimenez speaks with so much confidence, it’s as if he’s lived his life before. He’s just repeating it for a second time for old times’ sake.
But there has been struggle in his life, even in baseball.
The first time Jimenez ever played the game, at 9 years old, he stepped to the plate for his very first at-bat — and got smacked in the head by a wayward pitch.
“I was out of the game. When I got home, I told my dad, 'I don’t want to play anymore,'” Jimenez said.
Just like that, the baseball career of Eloy Jimenez could have ended after one at-bat. Basically one pitch. It didn’t seem like a big loss to Jimenez. His real love at the time was basketball.
But a few weeks later, his dad circled back on the idea of giving baseball another try.
“Why are you going to quit after just one at-bat?” father asked son. “Why don’t you try again?”
Jimenez begrudgingly returned to the baseball field, mainly to please his dad. He grabbed a bat, stepped back in the box, stared at the pitcher’s mound and to his surprise, fate intervened.
Jimenez smashed a home run about 200 feet over the left-field fence.
How did it feel?
“Oooof. Amazing,” Jimenez said with his big beaming smile.
As he puts it, “from that point on, I was in” when it came to baseball.
He would eventually become one of the top young players in the Dominican Republic. By 2013, he was considered “the crown jewel” of that year’s international class. Jimenez signed a $2.8 million contract with the Cubs as a 16-year-old. Scouts believed he was the total package.
But while playing rookie ball in the Cubs organization in 2014, Jimenez admits something today that few people have ever known: He thought about quitting the game.
“The first year when I came to the United States, I was 17 years old. I was away from my family. I didn’t speak the language. It was really hard. I needed to wait for somebody to translate so I could go eat. It was hard because I wasn’t doing good in the season and I was little bit frustrated with that,” he explained.
Playing on a team featuring top Cubs prospects like Gleyber Torres and Jorge Soler, Jimenez went through a slump that brought him to his knees.
“I was 0-for-40.”
Think about that. Eloy Jimenez 0-for-40. Basically 10 straight games without a hit.
I was like, ‘I don’t want to play anymore.’” Jimenez said.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the light that burns so brightly inside him to flicker back to life.
“The next day I said, 'Why did I say that? (Playing baseball) is something you’re dreaming about. That’s why you play. That’s why you signed. Why do you say that you don’t want to play anymore?' I don’t think that is good. I felt that, too.”
That season in 42 games, Jimenez hit just .227/.268/.367 with three home runs in 164 plate appearances.
“I think that was the year that was the worst of my career,” he said.
Jump ahead five years, Jimenez is coming off his very best year. In 108 games with Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, he combined to hit .337/.384/.577 with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs.
Not getting called up to the majors last September was “disappointing,” but Jimenez accepted the White Sox decision to hold him back until this season.
“There was nothing I could do about it. There was nothing I could control. I just go to the field and can control what I can do,” he said.
After the season, Jimenez returned to the Dominican Republic, where he received a special visitor at his home: White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.
“It was really special. I appreciated it. He take his time to come to the DR and talk to me and my family,” Jimenez said of Hahn’s visit.
“He just tell us, 'Don’t worry. Just be ready for the moment because it’s going to be soon.' And I said, 'OK, no problem.'”
When he gets to the majors, how good does Jimenez think he’ll be?
“I think I’m going to be good in my mind all the time,” he said with conviction.
Where did he get such confidence in himself?
“I’m born with it. With everything I’ve done. I think that’s special for me.”
Soon the city of Chicago will be able to see this budding star’s poise, spirit, fearlessness and mile-wide smile firsthand when Jimenez dons a White Sox uniform for his major league debut.
When will that be? The question has yet to be answered. But we know this: That time is fast approaching.
“I’m just going to let it happen,” Jimenez said. “When it happens and I get the call, I’m going to be excited.”
So will White Sox fans.
Get ready everyone, because Eloy is coming.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.