MINNEAPOLIS — There will be a moment in Tuesday’s All-Star Game when White Sox first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu steps onto Target Field and realizes a dream he and his family have long held.
They have always sensed he was special, beginning with his first family portrait when the 1-year-old grabbed a badminton racket and posed like a hitter. But Jose Oriol Abreu and his wife Daysi Correa know nothing can prepare them for the emotion they will experience during their son’s All-Star debut on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Not only will his first All-Star appearance offer more validation all those difficult months spent apart has been worth it, but it will also mark the first time the parents have seen their son play in person since they were all in Cuba.
While Daysi has inspired and advised her son on how to navigate his first 11 months in a new country and league, she said Monday she’s so overcome with pride that she can’t describe how she’ll feel. But her husband encapsulated what promises to be a magical moment when their son takes the field.
“Seeing him play tomorrow is going to be the realization of so many years of hard work, so much dedication,” the senior Abreu said through White Sox spokesperson Lou Hernandez. “It’s going to be like we’re going to a big party.”
According to his parents, the junior Abreu developed at a young age the same drive he displayed this spring when he arrived at Camelback Ranch 90 minutes early to head to the batting cages.
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As a boy, Abreu Jr., who leads the majors with 29 home runs this season, and his father would head to the train tracks every day, where dad would flip hundreds of rocks and son hit them with half of a broomstick. He started attending his dad’s games when he was 2 or 3 and watched closely as he took batting practice.
Around 8 or 9, Abreu Jr. began to play organized baseball. Though the elder Abreu said he taught him the basics, his son’s natural talent took over and people began to take notice.
By 16, Abreu Jr. was playing in the Cuban National Series. That season he had a 31-game hitting streak, a record his parents said has never been broken. He even began to keep a book on pitchers, tracking every pitch they threw and recording what resulted in outs and his successes.
“How you relate to the game and how you feel the game, that’s something that has always come natural to him,” Jose Sr. said. “I taught him some aspects of baseball and how to play the game. But the instincts, how to play, those natural instincts, that was always something that came to him. But he was always dedicated. He was always focused.”
His father’s love of professional baseball piqued the son’s curiosity. Though games on the radio were hard to find, he and his father listened when they could as the elder Abreu told his son about the game’s great hitters, players such as Albert Pujols.
Around the time of his second or third season in the Cuban National Series, the younger Abreu began to dream of life in the major leagues. As he began to have more and more success, his parents realized he would one day want to pursue his goal of Major League Baseball.
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That dream became more of reality when Abreu Jr. began to emerge as a dominant force for Cuba in international play, including the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Though the family is extremely close — they have talked on the phone every day for the last year — and knew the separation would be difficult, the younger Abreu said his parents encouraged him to follow his dream.
Daysi suggested her son wore No. 79 with the White Sox because people would remember him.
On the day the White Sox announced his signing, Abreu Jr. walked into U.S. Cellular Field, where every electronic sign welcomed him, and began to tear up because he wanted to share the moment with his parents, who were still in Cuba.
“It was really difficult,” Daysi said. “We passed through a really tough stretch there. Being that far apart and for that long, we’d never been apart. We went through a really tough stretch. It was a really difficult.”
But the encouragement kept coming via FaceTime on their iPhones.
Though he was faced with life in a new country, competing against unfamiliar players and traveling like he never had before, the slugger continued to succeed.
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He said he owed it all to the phone calls.
Every day, he’d speak with his mom, who offered words of wisdom, while his father talked about his approach at the plate. Almost immediately after he hit the first two home runs of his career on April 8, the younger Abreu credited his performance to an early-morning phone call from his mother, who told him to stay patient, that the homers would come.
They have since come in bunches, which hasn’t surprised the slugger’s parents.
“We’re extremely proud of what he has accomplished and this start in the big leagues, it’s something we couldn’t be more proud of,” Daysi said. “We always knew that he could do special things, that he could do big things.”
Abreu Sr. said it was the gaudy numbers his son put up in the Cuban National Series that has had him convinced he could be this good.
“He was just too good for the Cuban baseball, his numbers were too good and too much for the Cuban Series, so we were convinced he could do that now,” the elder Abreu said.
Now come the spoils.
The top candidate for AL Rookie of the Year will most certainly have an opportunity or two to hit on Tuesday. The only difference — it will be the first time with his parents in the stands. The cleanup hitter said his parents have been in Florida for two months and tried to see him play earlier this season when he was on the disabled list.
Now, he’s excited to share his All-Star experience with his family.
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“I’m just super happy and proud that I get to share this with them,” Abreu said at an All-Star press conference. “She woke up this morning with just so much energy and so proud herself and I tell her ‘I’m not just in this All-Star Game by myself. You’re in this All-Star Game. You’re in this All-Star Game next to me.’ Every day what I do at the ballpark, every day the work I put in is for my family. I talk about my mom, but I do everything I do for my family.”
As they discussed the All-Star festivities, Abreu’s parents beamed with pride.
Just like any parent, they expect to be a ball of emotions as they watch their son play. While mom had a difficult time expressing hers, dad didn’t as he reflected on the grand moment and how the family was once again there to support each other as they had back in Cuba.
“We’re witnessing this great thing, the dream we had for him is coming true,” the elder Abreu said. “We’re a really strong family. We rely on the support of our family. And he’s always relied on us. He listens to our advice and takes what he needs from us to make himself. That’s what makes him appear so strong. He knows the support he has from his family.”