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updated: 5/3/2014 10:31 PM

Abreu instant hit for White Sox in more ways than one

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  • As good as Jose Abreu has been at the plate so far in his rookie season, he is as equally impressive as a positive influence on his White Sox teammates.

    As good as Jose Abreu has been at the plate so far in his rookie season, he is as equally impressive as a positive influence on his White Sox teammates.
    Associated Press


New hitting coach Todd Steverson already is a big fan of Jose Abreu, the White Sox' new first baseman.

What's not to like?

Before hitting a solo home run against the Indians on Friday night in the Sox' first game in May, Abreu set major-league rookie records for the most homers (11), RBI (32), extra-base hits (19) and total bases (71) in the opening month of the season.

But before raving about Abreu's fast start, work ethic and ability to make quick adjustments, Steverson praised his off-field skills.

"I've just been really impressed with how good of a teammate he is," Steverson said. "There is a language barrier with a lot of guys (Abreu speaks very limited English), but he finds a way to communicate, and everyone really responds very well to him."

Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo -- in particular -- have really responded to Abreu.

All three players are from Cuba, so there is no communication gap. And Abreu's instant success at the plate has seemed to rub off on Ramirez and Viciedo.

A notoriously slow starter, Ramirez entered Saturday's play leading the American League with a .356 batting average.

Viciedo opened the year as the Sox' fourth outfielder, but he stepped in when right fielder Avisail Garcia went down with a season-ending shoulder injury April 9. Viciedo was third in the AL with a .337 average through Friday.

"I am really enjoying this opportunity to help the team however I can," Abreu said.

Viciedo said his approach at the plate is pretty much the same as it's always been, and he is still an aggressive hitter. But he also has drawn 11 walks in 96 at-bats; he finished with 24 in 441 at-bats last year.

Ramirez and Viciedo both bat behind Abreu, and manager Robin Ventura views that as a big advantage.

"Being around a guy like Abreu and watching how they are pitching him and seeing his approach of going the other way, I think that's been a big help for the other guys," Ventura said. "You get to see how Abreu's being pitched so you kind of know what they're trying to do and how you're going to be pitched."

Playing in a different country and culture can be a big challenge, especially for Cuban players who leave home under less than ideal circumstances.

Former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen often talked about Ramirez calling him for help with basic tasks such as ordering hotel room service. With four Cuban-born players on this year's roster -- Abreu, Ramirez, Viciedo and backup catcher Adrian Nieto -- there is strength in numbers.

After signing a six-year, $68 million contract Oct. 31, Abreu said the comfort factor played a major role in his decision to join the Sox.

"I have to give a lot of thanks to the Cuban players who are playing for the White Sox, who created this atmosphere where I feel comfortable coming here," Abreu said. "Having spoken with them about the White Sox, about the organization, it makes things easier and made the decision easier. I'm thankful to them for giving me that perspective."

From Abreu to Viciedo to Ramirez to Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez to Jose Contreras, the Sox have been a popular landing spot for Cuban players over the past decade. It all started in 1951, when Cuban-born Minnie Minoso broke the White Sox' color barrier. Still going strong at 88, Minoso is a true living legend to Abreu, Ramirez and Viciedo.

Minoso talked to all three players at SoxFest in late January and reinforced the keys to being successful with the White Sox.

"I just tell them how this is the best organization in the league," he said. "We're the best from the ground up there, and they understand that. Never think negative. Everything is going to be OK, so always smile and give 100 percent."

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