White Sox

Jose Abreu sees what White Sox are building: 'Something big, and I don't want to leave'

Jose Abreu sees what White Sox are building: 'Something big, and I don't want to leave'

What a day for the White Sox rebuild.

It started with the crowd going wild for Dylan Cease, the No. 18 prospect in baseball who strolled out to the mound for his major league debut and left it with his first big league win. It ended with the crowd going wild for Jose Abreu, the veteran leader in the White Sox clubhouse who blasted a three-run walk-off homer to complete a doubleheader sweep on the South Side.

In between, that same crowd saw a pair of Yoan Moncada home runs. It saw Lucas Giolito and James McCann coaching up Cease in the dugout. It saw the White Sox, losers of a combined 195 games during the 2017 and 2018 campaigns, grab a pair of victories.

It saw the future coming together.

The White Sox faithful have been asked to exercise an awful lot of patience during Rick Hahn’s ongoing rebuilding project. Well, that patience is starting to pay off, and it’s becoming very clear to those involved what is being built on the South Side.

“Something very big,” Abreu said after the game through team interpreter Billy Russo, “and I don’t want to leave here.”

Abreu’s status has been one of the pending mysteries of a season brimming with positives, and he’s been one of those bright spots, heading to his third All-Star Game next week in Cleveland. The walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th inning Wednesday night was his 20th dinger of the season. He’s driven in 63 runs. He’s on pace to set new career highs in both of those categories.

But he’s still, for now, slated to hit free agency at the conclusion of the 2019 season. The White Sox, of course, have been very transparent about their desire to keep him around, and Hahn has even displayed an intent to do so, at times. It sure seems like Abreu is a part of this team’s long-term plans.

What takes no deciphering is what Abreu wants: He wants to be along for the ride.

“We are going to be good,” he said. “We have a lot of talent. We see Cease today, what he did in his first outing in the majors. Yoan has been doing it through the whole season, and he’s going to get better. Eloy (Jimenez) is going to get better, too.

“We have a lot of talent here, young guys. That’s something that made me realize I’m very blessed being here in this organization. I want to be part of this organization going forward because I know we are going to be very, very good, and I think you can see that right now.”

Indeed, we can, Jose. And few of the White Sox bright spots have been driving all of Abreu’s points home more forcefully than Moncada. After a disappointing 2018 season, his 2019 campaign has been terrific. He owns a .305/.355/.542 slash line to go along with his 16 home runs and 47 RBIs.

Moncada might not be a part of the trio of White Sox heading to the All-Star Game, but he has a case to make that he’s the team’s best position player right now. In addition to those strong offensive numbers, he’s playing some great defense at third base on a nightly basis. His two home runs in Wednesday’s second game — which came from two different sides of the plate — went a long way, the second in clutch fashion, tying things up at 6 in the bottom of the 10th.

“He's definitely growing and improving in all facets,” manager Rick Renteria said. “You're starting to see both sides of the ball, too, having impact. He's gaining more experience, continuing to grow up, continuing to improve and hopefully guys continuing to have that type of growth.”

You don’t need to be a baseball insider to realize what’s happening on the South Side. All that minor league talent is making its way to the major leagues, and a core is developing. Moncada, Jimenez, Cease, Giolito, McCann, Tim Anderson, Michael Kopech. Soon Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal will be a part of that core, too. And Abreu. He might have a few years on this group of impressive youngsters, but he wants to help guide them to the top of the baseball mountain.

“Pito's a leader,” Moncada said through Russo. “He's a veteran on this team. He's always trying to find ways for us to get better. And we need him. We need him here because he makes us better.”

They’re still mid-climb, but this whole rebuild thing seems to be shifting into overdrive. Abreu wants to make sure he’s along for the ride. Can you blame him?

“If I were the owner, I would sign myself here,” he said. “Hopefully, yes, I want to stay here.”

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The 15 most underrated players in White Sox history

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AP

The 15 most underrated players in White Sox history

The term “underrated” is loosely defined and almost always is accompanied by some personal bias, but in general it can used to describe fan favorites who don’t always command the bright spotlight.

Almost every White Sox fan can think of at least one player they believe wasn’t appreciated enough during their time on the South Side. Trust me, I’ve seen your Kelly Wunch jerseys in the stands.

So with a historical assist from Chris Kamka and a few other members of the NBC Sports Chicago team, I came up with the 15 most underrated players in White Sox history. 

Click here to see the 15 most underrated players in White Sox franchise history.

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Former White Sox bullpen catcher Man Soo Lee still impacting young fans

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NBC Sports Chicago

Former White Sox bullpen catcher Man Soo Lee still impacting young fans

Excuse me while I get nostalgic and recognize White Sox legend Man Soo Lee.

OK, he might not be a legend to everyone, but for anyone who was born between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s and frequented the left field bleachers at Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field between 2000 and 2006, then you probably know of Man Soo Lee. In fact, there’s a good chance he threw you a baseball at some point.

Man Soo Lee – or Lee Man-soo in his native South Korea – was the White Sox’s bullpen catcher from 2000-06. He has a World Series ring to his name and was one of the most fun-loving members of the 2005 White Sox.

But why am I writing about some random bullpen catcher? Well, it starts with Lee being briefly shown on the television broadcast of the May 8, 2005 White Sox-Blue Jays game that was replayed Monday on NBC Sports Chicago as part of our #SoxRewind series.

Just that quick shot of Man Soo Lee brought back some great memories of being at the ballpark. Like many young baseball fans, I was the type of kid that loved to get to games super early for batting practice. I would camp out in a perfect spot in the front row next to the White Sox bullpen and that meant Lee was close by, usually shagging fly balls.

And he was very generous with those baseballs.

Lee’s English wasn’t perfect, but he could still communicate with fans and he would always be goofing around. For example, it might take a quick game of Rock-Paper-Scissors to get a ball from him.

Over time, Lee came to recognize the fans he saw often, and that included me. I’d see him on the road in Minneapolis or Kansas City and he’d come by the stands, thank me for making the trip and usually drop me a ball. Today, working as a reporter, that type of interaction doesn’t seem like a big deal, but back then, as a young teenager, the bullpen catcher knowing your name was one of the coolest things in the world.

And I know I’m not the only one who still appreciates Man Soo Lee’s relationship with the fans. Just in sending out that tweet on Monday, I received similar sentiments in response:

Sadly, in doing some research for this piece, I came to find out that while Lee always looked like he was having so much fun, his time in Chicago wasn’t exactly easy on his family.

"It was a very tough time. Nobody understood my English although I studied it quite hard in Korea,” Lee told the Korea Times in December. “Racial discrimination was also bad, especially in the minor leagues. In the Major League, it was much better. Players were more relaxed."

The thing is, Man Soo Lee is an actual baseball legend in Korea. He was one of the first stars of the Korea Baseball Organization and pulled off the Triple Crown in 1984, leading the league in home runs, RBIs and batting average.

But in that same Korea Times story, he said he wasn’t prepared for being a nobody in the United States and spoke of the “meaninglessness” of his fame. The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s also made things tough. It’s not like bullpen catchers make a lot of money, even in Major League Baseball.

"We didn't have money,” he said. “We ordered one drink at Starbucks and shared it between (my wife and two sons). Chicago is very cold and one night we lost electricity. To save money, we stayed home under one blanket. It was a really tough time, but I got to spend lots of time with my boys and did many things with my family."

Lee went back to South Korea in 2006 and eventually became manager of the SK Wyverns. Today, he’s helping develop baseball in the country of Laos, teaching the game to underprivileged children. 

And hopefully he knows he had a strong impact on young baseball fans during his time in Chicago too.

The White Sox-Rangers game from May 17, 2005 will air Thursday at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. For the full White Sox Rewind schedule from the 2005 season, click here.

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