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Jose Abreu is what Cubs-Sox rivalry needs

Updated: June 7, 2014 6:39AM



There’s no need to remind people the Cubs-White Sox crosstown battle now resembles a gardening club.

The former BP Oil Crosstown Cup has been replaced by boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts.

‘‘The Crosstown Donut Series Begins!’’ the press-box release read. ‘‘The special Cubbie Donut is glazed with white frosting and blue-and-red drizzle, while the ChiSox Donut is a chocolate ring with white frosting and chocolate drizzle.’’

(Drizzled one of each into my belly, thank you.)

The teams used to have bad guys. The teams used to be contenders. They used to be spiteful, arrogant, detested by the other’s fans. At least they had purpose and pizzazz, if not winning records.

The teams played for city bragging rights. They had Sammy Sosa and Carlos ‘‘Big Z’’ Zambrano and Frank ‘‘Big Hurt’’ Thomas.

Now? Well, you’ve got a sweet, even-keeled, decent manager on the South Side and a sweet, albeit a little more vocal, seemingly decent manager on the North Side.

Remember when Ozzie Guillen was the Sox’ skipper, spouting about everything from Venezuelan politics to Wrigley Field rats? And when Lou Piniella was the Cubs’ skipper, an aging but feisty fellow who just might be ready for one more base-kicking explosion?

Ah, memories.

Yes, there was the plunking of beloved Sox fossil Paul Konerko in the 12th inning of the Sox’ 3-1 victory Monday. But Paulie, God love him, barely looked at his arm en route to first base. No hate there.

But maybe, just maybe, there’s a star here who can excite his own team the way a star should while also getting the respect and fear from the other team that is needed. That combination equals interest and passion. And, someday, the nasty T-shirts from the haters.

We’re talking about Jose Abreu. He’s the Sox’ 27-year-old rookie slugger from Cuba. In his first at-bat against Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, Abreu smoked a line-drive sacrifice fly to right field that scored Alejandro De Aza for the first and only run of the first five innings.

It was so cold and the wind was blowing in from Canada so hard that it seemed a Bears game might break out. But Abreu has the power to bore a hole in such conditions.

Indeed, the 6-3, 255-pound guy seems to be a true phenom. He was just named the American League rookie of the month and player of the month — a feat no one had accomplished in April — after hitting 10 home runs and driving in 32 runs. Both those numbers are the most in history by a rookie in April.

Abreu doesn’t speak English, but he said through Sox interpreter Lino Diaz: ‘‘I thank the Lord to be able to achieve this, and it’s obviously something that makes me happy. And I’m thanking my teammates as well. It’s a great thing. I’m very humbled to get that honor.’’

It is humbling to have his kind of skill and desire. Abreu’s so new to the league that pitchers barely know who he is. And vice versa.

‘‘He doesn’t know the pitchers,’’ Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams said. ‘‘It’s just good hand-eye coordination.’’

That and uncanny strength in a short swing that comes from a normal right-hander’s stance, bat held high. When Abreu connects, the ball seems to be wrapped a lot tighter than it is for other players. In a recent game, he hit a scorched foul ball that his teammates claim tore part of the cover off.

That’s Sosa power. And we’ll assume it was only Flintstone-vitamin fueled. No reason to believe otherwise.

Abreu can hit in May, too. He now has 12 homers and 35 RBI. And there is something else observers like about his stroke.

‘‘He is a great mistake hitter,’’ Sox TV play-by-play man Hawk Harrelson said. ‘‘Most guys, if they can even reach a mistake pitch, what are they gonna do with it? Hit a little burner? This guy . . . you show me great mistake hitter, I’ll show you a star.’’

It was kind of swell, actually, when Abreu came to bat with the score tied 1-1 in the ninth — with workhorse, snakebit pitcher Samardzija still on the mound for the Cubs — and got a large dose of boos from Cubs fans.

Boos! Yay!

He walked. Can’t blame Samardzija, whose arm was about to fall off, even as he failed yet again to earn his first victory. Abreu kills mistakes, remember.

These teams might be full of mistakes, but this Abreu fellow isn’t one of them.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: ricktelander



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