Jose Abreu

White Sox rookie Jose Abreu has impressed Albert Pujols

11 Comments

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jose Abreu has made a good first impression on Albert Pujols and it has nothing to do with his home run total.

OK, maybe some of it is based on Abreu’s massive power.

But Pujols, who met the White Sox slugger in spring training and has spoken with him again this weekend, said he’s impressed with how Abreu has conducted himself during his rookie season.

Abreu went to Pujols for advice in March and spent 10-15 minutes chatting with the three-time Most Valuable Player. Pujols downplayed the advice and said that the Cuban-born slugger would be on his way to big things whether they had spoken or not.

“He’s really mature,” Pujols said. “That’s pretty impressive for guys like that, having all that pressure. Leaving his country to come here to the United States and play and to be able to handle himself the way he has, I’m proud of him. I don’t know him that much but the time we spent, to be able to encourage him, I can see he’s really appreciative. I don’t want to take any credit. He no matter what, whether I helped him out or not, he’s a great hitter.”

[MORE: White Sox notes: Semien gets first outfield action]

Abreu insists Pujols is just being modest; that his advice has been extremely helpful.

Before the season began, Abreu said he likes to study great hitters in his spare time. Pujols, who smacked the 507th homer of his career on Friday, is high on that list. The two spoke again before Saturday’s game and its clear Abreu holds Pujols in high regard.

“It’s amazing,” Abreu said through a translator. “He was taking (batting practice) and he stepped just to come out and say hello to me and talk to me, which is incredible. That’s one of the reasons why we admire him so much, the kind of people he is, the kind of professional he is. We talk about a lot of things and I’m very thankful for the advice he gives me. He’s definitely a person all baseball players admire and he’s a role model for all of us.

“He can be as modest as he can be, saying all of that. But I have to be thankful to him. He said some really good things to me that I follow and I know that they are helping me and they will continue to help me. He’s that kind of person. A modest person and a real pro.”

Pujols said he’d offer similar advice to anyone who wants it. But he also admits he could identify with Abreu having come to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic with a limited grasp of English. Pujols said he wanted to reassure Abreu that the style of baseball isn’t that different from home and he would enjoy playing in the United States.

“I was in that situation myself when I came to the United States,” Pujols said. “Just to encourage, don’t try to do too much. He’s going to love Chicago. He’s going to love that city. He’s obviously going to love that park. The park is pretty hitter friendly, but for him it doesn’t matter. He’s such a strong guy that he can hit the ball in any park from right field to the left-field corner. He was just asking me questions about what the pitchers were trying to do. I told him the difference between the American League and the National League is in the National League they challenge you a little bit more than the American League. They throw you more offspeed and they don’t want you to beat them.”

[RELATED: Fresh Flowers up to White Sox workload challenge]

Pujols said he believes Abreu is in good hands as he is not only surrounded by Spanish speakers and his countrymen, but also by “great leaders in Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko.”

The National League rookie of the year in 2001, Pujols predicted before the season Abreu would win the award in the AL this season. Abreu faces stiff competition from New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, but Pujols is impressed by the quick start of the White Sox slugger.

Abreu was named the AL player of the month and rookie of the month for April after he set rookie records for homers and RBIs, previously established by Pujols.

“Any time you have a guy like that who can take the field every day and help the team out is unbelievable and pretty exciting,” Pujols said. “The season he’s having so far, I’m pretty sure he’s just going to get better because the second time around he’s going to make more adjustments and the pitchers are going to make adjustments. But he’s a smart hitter and he uses the whole field.”

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-2-15-25-pm
Craig Calcaterra
10 Comments

MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

tix

 

That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
5 Comments

The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.