Abreu driven by team success, not numbers

White Sox slugger discusses 2021 season, 200 career HRs mark with MLB.com

March 30th, 2021

will not tell a lie.

The White Sox first baseman knows how close he is to reaching 200 career home runs, sitting two away as he begins an eighth season with the club on Thursday night in Anaheim, Calif. Milestones almost are inevitable when you have the sort of top-notch career produced by the 34-year-old.

They also aren’t what drives the leader for one of baseball’s most talented teams.

“What motivates me is to do my best to help this team and to accomplish really good things as a team, as a group,” Abreu told MLB.com through interpreter Billy Russo. “Enjoy every day, enjoy what we do as a team and just have fun.

“Especially now that we won’t have Eloy [Jiménez]. It’s on us to try to have as much fun as possible and try to bring him joy, too. We’ll see how things go, but that’s my goal. I definitely am thinking about the 200 homers, but my goal right now is have a good season and have fun with it.”

Abreu enters the 2021 campaign on the heels of winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award, as well as having topped the AL in RBIs in ’19 with 123 and ’20 with 60. There were tears and much celebration for Abreu at the moment this MVP honor was announced, but the award also could bring extra pressure with a desire to go out and once again try to hit such lofty heights.

But that’s not how Abreu is wired. After playing nine innings on Friday against the Brewers in Phoenix, Abreu came back to the White Sox Camelback Ranch complex and hit in the cage for an hour, per a tweet from pitching coach Ethan Katz.

“It’s what you do when no one is watching,” Katz tweeted from his @ethankatz account. “No wonder he is an MVP!”

A truly tireless work ethic is part of what defines Abreu, more so than awards.

“If you know yourself and you are true with yourself, you won’t feel any pressure,” Abreu said. “You know what you are capable of doing and you know how you get there. I’ve been working hard throughout my whole career. I know that I get to this point because of my work. There’s nothing I should change because I’m now an MVP.

“Ultimately, MVP is just three letters that for some people can mean a lot. Not to disrespect anything, I appreciate and respect this award, but it’s not something that’s going to be in my mind, and I’m going to change or believe that I’m better because I’m an MVP.

“I’m not that kind of person that I’m going to be comfortable just because I’m an MVP now,” he added. “I’m going to keep working hard. I don’t like to get comfortable. I don’t like to feel like there’s nothing else. There’s always more you can do and I’m going for more.”

Team success rates as a major portion of that “more” searched for by Abreu. He had his first taste of playoff baseball last season, and while it ended in a disappointing three-game AL Wild Card Series setback in Oakland, Abreu believes that experience gave the group greater knowledge of what’s needed for playoff survival.

Blend that experience with a roster full of talent, and the White Sox are in a pretty enviable position entering 2021.

“Even though we had a big blow with Eloy’s injury, I think we are going to be OK. We have the talent,” Abreu said. “There’s a lot of players here that can do a lot of different things.

“We are going to be good. Eloy is going to be good. It’s going to be a fun season. We are hungry to go farther and make a very deep run in this year’s postseason.”

Abreu’s continued production is an important part for this team.

His two homers will make him the fifth player in White Sox history to reach 200, trailing only Frank Thomas (448), Paul Konerko (432), Harold Baines (221) and Carlton Fisk (214). Abreu is also 33 RBIs from passing Magglio Ordonez to reach the Top 10 in that category, giving Abreu a great sense of pride to be mentioned with fellow great White Sox players, but not a change in what he does or who he is.

“For me, it’s an honor and definitely I take that with great respect,” Abreu said. “At the same time, my focus is what can I do next. How can I do things better? How can I improve? How can I help this team even more? How can I help the guy right next to me?

“Those are the things I’m focusing on instead of where my name is or who is my name mentioned with. It’s a daily push to do better, to do more, to help more people, to make my mom feel proud of me, to make the White Sox organization proud to have me and to give the best of me every day on and off the field. At the end, that’s what really matters for me.”