Well, there you have it.
We all knew this day was coming, yet still, everything about José Abreu’s departure doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s because Pito is preparing to join Houston on a three-year deal (per Bob Nightengale), where he will serve as yet another offensive catalyst to an already potent Astros lineup. Or, perhaps, sadness comes from knowing that he deserved better during his nine seasons here on the South Side. Regardless of one’s feelings, the truth is that the Chicago White Sox have just lost the heart and soul of their current squad. And whether or not it was the right decision to part ways with the face of the franchise, things aren’t going to be the same around 35th and Shields next year.
When you do decide to return to Guaranteed Rate Field in 2023, you may notice the words “Passion, Pride, and Tradition” boldly hanging between three levels of the concourse ramps. While they do make up a classic slogan for the team when put together, these words are also a reminder of the hard-work and sacrifice that countless generations of South Siders have made to create a better life for themselves and their families.
José Abreu was never a stranger to these values, even when his homeland of Cruces, Cuba, was thousands of miles away from Bridgeport. Pito’s decision to play for the Chicago White Sox was one that required unthinkable sacrifice – a decision that could have easily ended in tragedy. As revealed in a 2015 column by Michael E. Miller for Chicago Magazine, Abreu endured a frightening twelve-hour boat ride while defecting from Cuba with six of his family members. As the small vessel crashed through treacherous fifteen-foot waves, the family, held together by José, would often huddle together, praying that they would make it to their destination alive. Former White Sox catcher Adrian Nieto shared that “Jose was scared for his life in that little boat…He told me many times: ‘If it’s everybody’s life or mine, I’m going to make sure my parents and my sister live before I do.’”
While details from Abreu’s backstory may come as a surprise to certain fans, his stoicism does not. Through consistent displays of strength, perseverance, and loyalty, Pito was the gold standard, and he always led by example. Even after enduring personal hardships, battling through injuries, and finding ways to produce on many underperforming White Sox teams, José’s effort and commitment were never in question. The fans knew it, and so did all of his teammates. It’s the reason why he became so revered from the moment he put on the uniform in 2014.
José’s mother always wanted her son to wear an unusual number, like 79, so that people would have a way of remembering him. At this point, given his accolades and reputation, it’s hard to imagine that the number could ever be forgotten. Hopefully, someday, we’ll be able to join together as a fanbase and celebrate it in a better light. Until then, my only hope is that when the Houston Astros open their series in Chicago on May 12, 2023, every person inside Guaranteed Rate Field is on their feet giving him a thunderous ovation. And maybe, just maybe, we can all get the “José” chant going again, for old times’ sake. It’s the least we can do for a first-class player, and an even better human being.
Thanks for the memories, Pito.
Hope that you enjoy a few of my favorite José Abreu photos that I have captured over the years.