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He wasn't a close friend but certainly someone I knew, an acquaintance. When he saw me walking the concourse at the ballpark, his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.
"Have you seen this kid?" It wasn't so much a question as a declaration. "He loves to play. He's so much fun."
That was 1985 when a 21-year-old Venezuelan prospect named Ozzie Guillen took over at shortstop at Comiskey Park and became a fixture for the next 13 seasons. He was an All-Star three times and, along with The Big Hurt, Black Jack and Carlton Fisk, the face of the franchise.
Before he arrived, we didn't know much about him. The team had a history of Venezuelan shortstops with Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio. We could be excused if we questioned whether the new kid could live up to those standards. We only knew that he represented the future in a trade that sent pitcher LaMarr Hoyt to San Diego after the 1984 season. Just a year earlier, Hoyt had won 24 games for the division-winning Sox, earning him a Cy Young Award. We had to believe that the Sox had received value in return.
Guillen never played a minor-league game in the Sox system. He was big-league ready when the Sox obtained his services. However, even if Ozzie, who entered pro ball at 17, had been homegrown, in the absence of Twitter, not to mention the Internet itself, he would have quietly developed in places like Appleton and Glen Falls, far from the big city.
What a difference from last week when Dylan Cease began warming up in the bullpen on a Wednesday afternoon for a makeup game against Detroit. The team's marketing department had to be salivating. They would have been fortunate to have 12,000 fans in the seats for a mid-week unscheduled day game against a lousy team like the Tigers.
However, in this social media age, every one of the more than 26,000 who showed up, plus a television audience, had been anticipating - even recently demanding - Cease's arrival almost since the day he was traded across town to the Sox in the Jose Quintana swap two years ago this week.
Cease's debut, which lasted five innings in an eventual Sox 7-5 victory, was much like that of Michael Kopech last season. Fans flocked 10-deep around the bullpen as Cease, 23, got loose.
Many of his teammates walked with him as he made his way to the dugout. The crowd rose to its feet for his first pitch, recorded for posterity on thousands of clicking cellphones.Years from now, lots more than 26,000 will boast, "I was there."
There is much to be said for the exposure and puffery that these prospects receive long before they ever appear on the big stage. We love anticipation. We look forward to special events like weddings, graduations, vacations, and even family reunions in most cases. We count down the months and days. When the event finally is upon us, far more often than not, it lives up to advance billing.
Of course, there can be a letdown after the fact, but in the case of the local baseball team on the South Side, the hits just keep coming. Even though Kopech's career was interrupted due to a recalcitrant ligament in his right elbow - a common occurrence these days - we'll get all juiced up again next season when he returns.
Yoan Moncada, once the very top prospect in all of baseball, arrived two years ago after being observed almost daily at Charlotte via the Sox website, Twitter and televised minor league games. We saw flashes of brilliance in the first season-and-a-half, but he didn't come close to living up to expectations until this season. Now at the All-Star break, we have a third baseman who's hitting over .300 with power to burn and an arm to match any corner man in the league. Maybe it gets lost in all the hoopla, but general manager Rick Hahn continues to preach patience, a perfect example in the case of Moncada.
Ever since the Quintana trade, Eloy Jimenez has been scrutinized, lionized, glorified and celebrated. "He's gotta work on his defense," we were told as Eloy seemed destined to start the year at Triple-A. But then, boom! Six years at $43 million for the kid with the endearing smile who says hello to his mom after hitting home runs.
Then there's this: In splitting four games with the Cubs in the past three weeks, the two wins both were by 3-1 scores - the second coming on Sunday leaving the Sox with a 42-44 record - and Jimenez hit deciding two-run homers in each game against the organization that dealt him away. Really, folks. You couldn't have written a more perfect script.
And his defense? After stumbling around left field like a dive bar drunk at the season's beginning, he's made some remarkable catches including last Thursday when he took away a two-run homer from Detroit's Nicholas Castellanos. Later he smashed his own home run far over the centerfield wall, just like he did Sunday against the Cubs. It was his 16th of the season. So far he's the greatest .241 hitter in the world, and he's only going to get better.
This has all happened very suddenly. Now it's cool to be a Sox fan. Here's a team that's close to winning half its games, the yardstick of mediocrity, while across town in Rickettsville the denizens are fretting over their first-place ballclub.
Meanwhile, the pipeline to the South Side resumes after a Futures Game on Sunday in which second baseman Nick Madrigal and center fielder Luis Robert played for the American League, batting second and third, respectively. Neither did much, going a collective oh-for-six, but don't let that fool you. The Luis Robert Watch already has begun, and the Sox added more heat to the already hot trail by announcing that Robert has been promoted to Charlotte, just a step away from The Grate. The kid is just 21. Like Moncada and Jose Abreu, he's Cuban. Descriptions like "five tool player, electric bat speed, could be a 30-30 player" have been applied to the 6-foot-3, 185-pound speedster.
Madrigal is just the opposite. He's a little guy, 5-7, 165, who led Oregon State to the NCAA title in 2018 before the Sox drafted him a year ago in the first round with the fourth overall pick. There is much to like about Madrigal. He's a solid defender and a contact hitter who has struck out just twice this season at Double-A Birmingham. He's hitting .392 after being promoted from Winston-Salem.
There could be a dilemma for the Sox if and when Madrigal, who's 22, is big-league ready. Like what happens to Yolmer Sanchez. It's one thing to be a star at Double-A, but quite another at excelling at the highest level.
Sanchez made three errors in this season's first five games. Since then he's only made two while handling 302 chances flawlessly. A switch-hitter, Sanchez's .252 average is right at the MLB average but 10 points higher than his own batting average coming into the season.
We often hear about the desired positive presence in the clubhouse, and Sanchez seems to be one of the central players in the team's social makeup. He has trademarked the dumping of the Gatorade container on himself and unsuspecting bystanders like third base coach Nick Capra. He's a character who in many ways exemplifies the spirit of this new and up-and-coming team. And Sanchez is only 27.
Let's say that Madrigal becomes the kind of infielder and leadoff man that any team would covet. What effect would it have if he steps up to take Sanchez's job in the near future? Obviously it would be much different than, say, when Robert takes away playing time from Ryan Cordell and Charlie Tilson.
Ahh, but let's not concern ourselves with "Be careful what you wish for" scenarios. Beating the Cubs on Sunday with shaky Ivan Nova on the mound - both wins over the Cubs were in games he started - was sweet. Abreu and Jimenez both homered to supply all the offense required. Lucas Giolito, James McCann and Abreu will represent the team in Tuesday's All-Star Game while their teammates can relax and prepare for a run at .500.
Meanwhile, the Twitter world will keep churning out all the endless minutiae from around the country telling us that help is on the way.
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Posted on Jul 15, 2019