The White Sox aren’t worried one bit about stardom changing Jose Abreu.
There’s no concern privately or publicly within the halls at 35th and Shields that he’ll let his record-setting performance go to his head.
They’re not worried he will stop working effortlessly to continue his acclimation process to the major leagues and life in the United States. There’s no concern he’ll be overwhelmed by stardom and act out in a manner that would hurt his image or the franchise’s.
Four months into a six-year relationship, the White Sox are confident they know just what they have in Abreu, whom one rival scout described as “an excellent human being” shortly after he signed a $68 million contract in October. On Monday, Abreu was rewarded for a record-setting opening act as he was named the American League player and rookie of the month for April.
“His attitude the whole time has been the same,” White Sox pitcher Chris Sale said of Abreu. “He’s never changed once. Even when we kind of poke fun at him for being a great hitter, little jokes, he’s like “Play the game. I go out and do my best.’ He has been very consistent on the field, off the field, in the clubhouse with his work ethic.”
It hasn’t taken long for the man they call ‘Oso’ to become a loved figure in the White Sox clubhouse.
Whether it’s him crediting his mom for advice before the first two home runs of his career, his nonstop work in the cage or the lighter side he shows in spite of his serious demeanor on the field, players know Abreu isn’t faking it.
“There is the humility that he has,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He cares deeply about his stature within our team and how he's not only viewed but looked upon. So that helps with his work ethic and how he goes about his business, and I think he takes it seriously. He's a humble kid. He just wants to be a good baseball player.”
Adam Dunn likes how Abreu constantly asks him questions about different ballparks, pitchers, etc. The two spent 10 minutes after Sunday’s game talking in Spanglish about the parks Dunn likes to hit in and why. Even though neither speaks the other’s language, Dunn said they get by and he enjoys Abreu’s thirst for knowledge.
“There is a language barrier but I think I can fake Spanish enough and he can probably fake English enough to where we can probably put two and two together,” Dunn said. “He definitely is a listener and he retains information well. He’s a stud.”
Konerko thinks a big part of the reason Abreu is so well prepared for the situation is his age and experience.
Abreu, 27, has played in several international tournaments for Cuba, including the World Baseball Classic. He also played professionally in Cuba. He’s used to the attention and to being a go-to player for media.
All of that has helped make this transition go much more smoothly than anyone could have imagined.
“He’s not a rookie in my mind,” Konerko said. “He’s played at a high level of baseball in different things around the world and the WBC and he’s seen quality pitching. He’s more mature than that — he’s not 21, 22 years old. I think the fact that he really doesn’t speak the language is a good thing — he can’t probably listen to it if he wants to. That really just helps him stay focused and I think we’ve seen the last couple of years that a lot of the Cubans players are really good.”
It’s that focus that the White Sox believe will keep Abreu grounded.
Even as he smashes records that were set by Albert Pujols and headed into Monday’s opener the talk of Chicago and the major leagues, he won’t change.
His mom will receive a call first thing in the morning and she’ll hear about the awards she helped him to win. He’ll be back in the cages four hours before first pitch refine his swing. And then he’ll return to his stall in the clubhouse to ask more questions and joke with his teammates.
“He's not doing any of this for any type of outside accolades or endorsements or anything like that,” Ventura said. “He just comes to play baseball. And he's prepared every day to do that.”