SURPRISE, Ariz. — Jose Abreu’s goal is to eventually speak for himself.
Speaking English is one of many goals the Cuban first baseman has established as he assimilates to a new culture in his first season for the White Sox. In the interim, Abreu has all the tools he needs at his disposal with translators and Spanish-speaking teammates. But Abreu has already begun to take online courses to speed up the process. The White Sox will further assist Abreu once he arrives in Chicago, but they aren’t surprised to see the slugger take on big task after task.
“It’s another example of him trying to do everything in his power to ease this transition into a new league,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “Obviously we have the ability to communicate with him in Spanish and coach him in Spanish, but 90 percent of the materials he receives are in English. I believe it’s another indication he ultimately wants to get to a point where he’s just another player playing in Major League Baseball. He has a lot to bite off here so it’s going to take some time. But he’s eager to do everything in his power for the transition.”
If Abreu were a minor-leaguer in the White Sox organization, he would be required to attend classes during spring training and the regular season to not only properly learn English, but to brush up on Spanish as well.
But because Abreu comes in on a major-league contract the White Sox don’t have the same level of control. They can’t require him to attend classes.
Grace Guerrero Zwit — the team’s senior director of minor-league operations who facilitates English instruction — doesn’t believe that will be an issue. If Abreu comes as advertised she has a tutor ready to work with him.
“Abreu seems anxious to learn,” Zwit said. “He really wants to learn English. So if he’s going to embrace this I have a person in mind that I will recommend to him once he gets here. They have to work out the schedule because of the travel if he’s willing to put the time in and then force himself during the season.”
Lino Diaz, the team’s manager of cultural development, has worked closely with Abreu since the team opened camp several weeks ago. A member of the coaching staff, Diaz translates for Abreu with reporters and other coaches. Diaz said his job is to “provide (Abreu) with the right information.” Part of that communication includes a Spanish-to-English pamphlet Diaz created for Abreu based on the baseball terminology the team uses.
But Diaz knows how hard Abreu has worked with Rosetta Stone and wonders how long he’ll be needed.
“He brings everything to the table,” Diaz said. “He takes all the credit for what he does. He’s right on it.”
The White Sox aren’t surprised by Abreu’s go-getter attitude.
He has displayed it repeatedly the past four months in preparing physically and mentally for the season. It’s what they expected from him based on scouting reports.
But Hahn wants Abreu to know they don’t think this will happen overnight, that he needs to avoid burning himself out.
Not that it’s a bad problem to have.
“He wants to show early on what we saw in him was merited,” Hahn said. “But we have told him time and again this is an extended relationship. We’re not looking to justify anything in April. You’d certainly prefer a guy you may have to pull back a little as opposed to one you need to spur into action and Jose has been extremely diligent.”
Abreu was asked about English when he first addressed reporters in camp. He didn’t shy away from his plans even though the transition could take some time. Though it was through a translator, Abreu made it clear he eventually strives to speak for himself.
“I’m dedicating part of the day and learning English,” Abreu said. “One day when I learn how to do it I’ll be giving an interview in English.”