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Abreu follows Minoso as Cuban father figure

@scottmerkin
September 18, 2020

CHICAGO -- The White Sox made history on Aug. 16 when they hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning of a 7-2 home victory over the Cardinals. Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and José Abreu launched the opening three of that quartet, becoming the first Cuban-born players to hit consecutive

CHICAGO -- The White Sox made history on Aug. 16 when they hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning of a 7-2 home victory over the Cardinals.

Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and José Abreu launched the opening three of that quartet, becoming the first Cuban-born players to hit consecutive homers in one game. That moment added to the rich Cuban Connection for an organization that has featured 24 Major Leaguers of Cuban heritage.

The long ball barrage followed an Aug. 1 contest against the Royals in which Luis Robert, Moncada, Abreu and Grandal made the White Sox the first team in MLB history to have a Cuban-born player in each of the starting top four batting order slots, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Abreu understood the value of the lineup alignment even before the first pitch was thrown.

“It’s a very good moment for the four of us,” Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo. “We’re trying to take advantage of that and enjoy the experience the best we can. We have to be glad for this opportunity that we can experience this together. It’s very special for us.”

“It was a cool moment for them,” added White Sox manager Rick Renteria. “They were taking batting practice and talking about it.”

Abreu was joined by Moncada, Robert, Jose Contreras, Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso during 2019 Spring Training for a discussion with MLB.com concerning players with Cuban heritage as part of the White Sox. Alonso and Jay no longer are with the team, while Contreras serves as the organization’s special assistant to baseball operations.

They provided interesting insight and stories ranging from their assimilation to the United States to how this connection developed with the White Sox. It’s no coincidence that previous Cuban players who found success and a home on the South Side had a profound influence on other players wanting to join.

“We do have history on our side,” White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams said. “We do have players who speak positively of their experience here. And they are unafraid of expressing those opinions to players that happen to be available.”

This connection started, of course, with Minnie Minoso, one of the greatest players in the history of baseball not enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Minoso, who in 1951 became the first Black player to take the field for the White Sox and the first Black Latino player in the Major Leagues, played 12 highly accomplished years in Chicago after being traded from the Indians in April of that season. He was a gregarious fixture often seen at White Sox home games up until his death in 2015. He was a friend and mentor to Abreu, among countless others.

Shortly after Minoso’s death, Abreu was asked about the wisdom gained through numerous talks with his friend. He smiled and said the answer would take hours because Minoso provided so much. But respecting the game and respecting their home country were the most important words shared by Minoso.

That guidance within the White Sox organization carried beyond Minoso. During the recent break in baseball caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Alexei Ramirez spoke to MLB.com about Contreras’ presence being an important factor in the Cuban shortstop’s decision to choose the White Sox over the A’s and Rays when he signed a four-year deal prior to the 2008 season.

Ramirez was the Opening Day center fielder and eventual everyday second baseman on the last White Sox playoff team.

“I remember when I was in the Dominican Republic and I was keeping in contact with Contreras,” said Ramirez, through Russo. “By that time, he was playing with the team. That was a big factor, a big influence, on my decision to sign with the team. I felt more comfortable, and for me, it was a very easy decision knowing that I had him here.

“For me it was a no-brainer to sign with the team because of that. Not just because of that, but I also knew the tradition of the Cuban players with the White Sox and with the team. I knew that Minnie Minoso, who for me was like a father figure, he played with them and I wanted to be with them.”

MINNIE MINOSO AND JOSÉ ABREU IN 2013

That same father-figure role is now served by Abreu, whose leadership by example permeates throughout the entire clubhouse. It was Abreu who picked up Moncada at the airport before his July 19, 2017, White Sox debut. Abreu’s locker during Spring Training has been situated next to Robert’s and Moncada’s.

Abreu has become one of the most productive players in White Sox history over his seven seasons with the team. With a three-year, $50 million deal agreed upon when Abreu became a free agent this past offseason, the 33-year-old likely will finish his career with the team.

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who commissioned a special ring for Abreu in celebration of his 2017 cycle, made that promise to Abreu’s family long before the deal was finalized. Abreu humorously quipped last season that he would sign himself back if the White Sox wouldn’t do it, because he wanted to play alongside young talent like Robert and Moncada.

Robert is among the favorites to win American League Rookie of the Year honors, while also being in the Most Valuable Player conversation. Abreu is one of the AL MVP front-runners.

Because Contreras and Hernandez played integral roles on the 2005 World Series championship team, that title truly resonated in Cuba. That same sort of attention should soon arrive for this current group of White Sox players, who appear to be playoff bound after emerging from a rebuild.

“It makes me feel proud just to see them rising in this organization,” Contreras said, with Russo interpreting. “Every time I have an opportunity to see a Latino player in any organization, especially doing well and succeeding, it’s a good reason to feel proud. But especially if you have the chance to see a Latino player or one specific Cuban guy in this organization, my organization, because this is truly my organization. It’s even better. The feeling is greater.

“You can see what Abreu does with the other guys. You now see what Moncada and Luis Robert can do on the field. That’s something that as a Cuban, as a countryman, you feel proud because you feel this organization and you feel your country represented by those guys too. That’s very special for me.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.