A full year and a half before Jose Abreu signed with the Chicago White Sox for $68 million, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award and finished fourth in MVP voting, Jonah Keri primed the public with some reconnaissance on the largely unknown Cuban slugger:
So let’s enjoy Jose Abreu while we still can. Let’s dream on a hitter so big, so powerful, he just might be better than anyone else on Earth. The information explosion has made us more knowledgeable sports fans than we could have ever imagined. But it’s OK to root for a mystery. Especially if it’s one of the last ones we ever see.
Abreu might not be the world's best hitter, but he's not all that far off from the lead. But even while he took the league by storm, personal details that would be routine for American players (How'd he get here? How's his family?) still required some work to flesh out.
They've never been more complete than in a story published in this week's Chicago Magazine, as Michael E. Miller comes the closest yet to answering the question posed by the title, "Who is Jose Abreu?"
Abreu tells Miller about his defection -- the danger on the open seas, and how it was the chief reason he left his now 4-year-old son behind. And Miller tells why Abreu decided to share it with him:
It’s a Tuesday afternoon in late January, only a week before Abreu, who spends his off-season in suburban Miami, will report early to spring training in Arizona. Wearing jeans and a black Gucci polo shirt—collar required at the country club—he talks about what he’s been through to get to this point: his enduring poverty growing up, his harrowing middle-of-the-night escape from Cuba, the pain of leaving behind his only son. "Life throws difficult moments at you every day," he says. "Thank God I’ve had people help me get through all the rough patches, as bad as they were."
At first, Abreu appears nervous about being interviewed. But when it becomes clear that we will chat in Spanish, he sighs with relief and launches into his native language. Abreu’s agent, Barry Praver, who owns a membership at the Riviera, sits across the table. Normally, he controls the questions put to his client, but with a limited understanding of Spanish, he can only check his cell phone and sip his iced tea.
But the story offers much more than the defection -- for instance, lots of fascinating color about his not-all-that-bad life in Cuba, his interest in Christian disco music, his relationship with Minnie Minoso (as told from Minoso's perspective in one of the last interviews he gave), and this anecdote:
Abreu’s latest lesson came while watching an animal documentary on TV, his preferred method for picking up English because of the slow, clear narration. "In baseball, we players always get so angry when we go 0 for 4," he says. "But the other day on one of those nature channels, I learned that when a lion is stalking a zebra, he fails four out of five times.
In other words, he fails four times before he succeeds!"
Read the whole thing, because judging from his reaction to follow-up questions from the beat writers, he may not offer much more in the near future.
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Chris Bassitt is still working in a starting role for Oakland, and he's still having the same problem that limited that future with the White Sox:
Bassitt, a right-hander acquired in the Jeff Samardzija deal with the White Sox, has pinpointed his problems, but he just hasn’t been able to execute when pitching inside to lefties, and they’re hammering him. Facing mostly left-handed hitters Monday, he gave up seven hits and five runs, leaving him with an 8.76 ERA.
"I’m struggling to get it inside," he said. "I’ve been working on that my whole life. Obviously, I’ve gotten away with it before, but that’s not something you can do at this level."