Abreu hits ground running in return to Sox

Reigning MVP takes live BP, singles in intrasquad match

February 28th, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When returned to White Sox camp Saturday morning, he was greeted by three 3-by-12-foot banners at the team’s Camelback Ranch complex reading “Welcome back, José!”, “We missed you!” and “Our MVP, our leader.”

There also were balloons, which Abreu carried to the field and released before his first workout. To say Abreu was missed by the team as he stayed away in compliance with MLB intake protocols due to a positive COVID-19 test would be an understatement. That welcome, which included a round of applause from his teammates and staff during the morning meeting when manager Tony La Russa welcomed him back, was not lost on Abreu.

“It was a really nice surprise,” said Abreu through interpreter Billy Russo. “Those are the little things that, the little details that make you feel proud to be a White Sox [player] and make you feel proud to be a baseball player.”

Abreu believes he contracted a mild case of the disease in January, which is reinforced by the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in additional testing, according to the original statement by the team. The reigning American League Most Valuable Player Award winner didn’t have any symptoms, aside from one day where he had a headache and a runny nose. But those slight maladies didn’t stop Abreu from his workout routine or his lifting program.

While quarantined in his Arizona hotel room, Abreu researched stay-at-home workouts and found one to follow, originating from Colombia. But he was thrilled to be back doing baseball work, hitting the ground running by taking batting practice, going through infield work and even singling in his first at-bat during an intrasquad game.

Live Cactus League action still might be a few days away for Abreu.

“I would be lying if I said I was ready. I spent almost eight days doing non-baseball-related activities,” Abreu said. “I am definitely not ready to start playing tomorrow. I will need a few more days to get used to the live pitching and all that stuff. But it doesn’t matter if I feel ready or not. I would play if the team needed me.”

“He's in terrific shape,” said La Russa of Abreu. “He walked into the live batting practice, wasn't jumping. He actually did a lot of taking and then he hit two line drives in the game, which everybody's laughing at, but he hit two bullets. It's going to be a question of just making sure he gets a lot of leg work, runs around, catches ground balls, because once you get in the game, you're just not careful so the worst thing to do would be to push it and have him break down when we could have been more careful.”

No outward concern was expressed by Abreu in relation to lingering COVID side effects, and general manager Rick Hahn related the same sentiment concerning Abreu to MLB.com during a recent interview. But after the battle Yoán Moncada faced last year following a positive test during the Summer Camp intake process, the White Sox will be extremely careful.

Shortly before getting the COVID news, Abreu was spending time at his house with his family, including his two sons and his nephew. He immediately worried about possibly having put them in danger, but thankfully, they all are healthy, leaving Abreu to wonder how he got it after spending the entire offseason at home.

That thought was left behind with Abreu’s first corralled ground ball and the first crack of the bat.

“I’m excited to be here,” Abreu said. “It was an exciting morning, just walking in and seeing my teammates, the way they welcomed me here. Being around these guys, they give you that energy to work hard and feel inspired. That’s something we have to carry over into the season. It’s a really good feeling we have right now.”

“Definite impact in a positive way, in every part of the day,” La Russa said. “In the locker room before everybody left, just sitting in the meeting, everybody going by looking at him. And then as the day transpired, he was in a group, but there were a lot of interactions. We're trying to develop a series of leaders, someone besides Tim [Anderson] and José, the more the merrier. But he's definitely the example that everybody wants to be like.”

Instead of focusing on winning a World Series title, Abreu reinforced La Russa’s point of being a family as well as executing and doing the little things. The White Sox will try to win every game starting with Sunday’s Cactus League opener by doing the best they can preparing for a long season.

Abreu still feels blessed to have won the 2020 MVP Award, but the 34-year-old is focused more on future improvement in his eighth season than past accolades.

“You can't be satisfied because you did something good a while ago,” Abreu said. “I love this game and I care about this game and I care about the White Sox.

“At the moment that I start feeling that that love is not there, I probably will retire because I do what I do because I love this game and I prepare every day to do my best. I honor the people around me and the uniform that I'm wearing.”