When Jose Abreu sat down with writer Michael E. Miller in January, it was the first time the White Sox star had openly talked about his leaving Cuba more than a year earlier. The resulting story, “Who is Jose Abreu?,” appears in the April issue of Chicago, and it is remarkable indeed. Here are some of the highlights.
He and his family survived a harrowing 12-hour boat trip.
Fifteen-foot waves lashed their boat as it made its way from Cuba to Haiti in August 2013.
Six of them huddled close atop a roiling ocean under an angry sky. But it was the hulking man in the midle who held them all together. Jose Abreu led his family—his fiancée, Yusmary; his parents; his sister and her husband—in prayers as the boat bucked and kicked beneath them. “It was dangerous, he says. “The waves were high, but the Lord was at our side. God gave us the chance to reach our destination.”
He had to leave his son behind.
Abreu deemed the trip too dangerous for his son, Dariel, who was two at the time. “It’s been two years since I’ve seen him,” Abreu says. “It’s been very difficult.”
His roommate, catcher Adrian Nieto, says he often finds Abreu just staring at photos of his son.
The danger for defectors doesn’t stop after leaving Cuba.
Abreu is still tight-lipped about some details of his journey, but other defectors report that smugglers will hold players’ families hostage until the players hand over a portion of their big league contracts.
He is very religious.
He reads the Bible at least twice a day, and he enjoys working out to Christian disco music.
He works crazy hard…
Abreu’s six-year, $68 million salary is a record for the White Sox, but he’s putting in the effort to earn it. He often shows up at U.S. Cellular Field seven hours before games. “He’ll be in there at 12 or 12:30 in the batting cages by himself, just working constantly.” says Nieto. “He’s obviously blessed with a ton of talent, but he works at his craft.”
… and then works even harder.
He reported to 2015’s spring training three weeks before required, this after an off-season in which he developed a leaner physique to carry him through a full 162-game season. (The Cuban season is only 90 games.) That’s important, because with the retirement of star Paul Konerko, it may fall to Abreu to carry the Sox offense.
He was pals with Minnie Minoso.
A month before he died at the age of 90, the legendary outfielder told Chicago about his special relationship with the young star.
“[Abreu is] a gentleman and a baseball lover. He doesn’t act superior. Other guys make a lot of noise. He’s a regular guy who lets his bat do the talking.” [Minoso] and Abreu mostly chatted about hitting, but also about each other’s families. “He misses his kid,” Minoso said.
He likes Chicago winter as much as you do.
That’s why he calls Miami home. “It’s so cold in Chicago. I’ve never experienced such cold. I don’t mess around with the cold.”
While in Cuba, he got to games on a horse-drawn buggy.
Despite being a star, Abreu had no car, so he relied on a friend’s buggy. “I loved riding around the city that way,” he says. “People would wave at me in the streets.”
It’s a phenomenal story. Read it in its entirety here.