Updated: March 19, 2014 11:54AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Whether he’s walking around the clubhouse or weight room with his head held high, wearing a black Under
Armour top that shows off a build that screams football as much as it does baseball, Avisail Garcia just catches your eye.
He caught Bo Jackson’s right away this week at spring training — and that’s worth noting.
Jackson, a former White Sox outfielder and a professional standout in two sports, knows talent. Hired as a Sox ambassador this winter, Jackson took a week to get away from his business ventures — and a brutal Chicago winter — to put on a uniform and interact with players. Jackson characterized the interaction as ‘‘messing with people.’’
‘‘I’m still learning the names of the younger players,’’ Jackson said Tuesday. ‘‘I’m getting to know the big kid, Garcia. He looks more like a defensive end than a right fielder. Actually, he’s a carbon copy of the kid [Miguel Cabrera] from Detroit.
‘‘I’m like, ‘Dang, when did they get him?’ And they told me he’s 22 years old, so he’s younger than my youngest kid. He’s just a baby, and talent just oozes from his pores. He looks like he’ll be a tremendous asset for the team.’’
Garcia smiled sheepishly when he heard that. Everybody knows Bo, even Venezuelan athletes who never played football.
‘‘It makes me feel great when someone like him talks about you like that,’’ Garcia said. ‘‘He’s impressive. For a guy to be an all-star in both sports, you don’t see that very often.’’
Jackson, who played for the Sox in 1991 and 1993, was an All-Star with the Kansas City Royals in 1989. Garcia wasn’t even born when Jackson was in his heyday, winning the Heisman Trophy as a fast, bulldozing running back at Auburn in 1985 and playing four seasons for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL before suffering a serious hip injury and focusing on baseball.
‘‘A few of them [know my background],’’ Jackson said. ‘‘I noticed some guys were on their iPad or phone, Googling. Then they find out my history and come back and [say]: ‘Can you sign this for me? Can you sign my baseball or my jersey?’ Even footballs. There’s footballs in spring training.’’
Jackson, who has made Chicago his home for 22 years, doesn’t care to do
interviews, but he handles them comfortably. He touched on various subjects, including former teammate and Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and the Cubs.
On the Cubs: ‘‘What’s a Cub? I don’t venture on the North Side.’’
On Thomas: ‘‘He deserved it, and I texted him the morning he got in or the morning after. That’s all that needed to be said, really. Frank is a thinking hitter, whereas I got up, I saw the ball, I hit the ball and I ran like hell. Frank deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.’’
Jackson, 51, said he doesn’t miss playing but misses the camaraderie with teammates. In 2013, he was honored with the Beacon Award, which recognizes individuals whose lives have embodied the spirit of the civil-rights movement.
Because athletes are getting better, faster and stronger over time, Jackson said he doubts his two-sport achievement will be seen again.
‘‘I probably couldn’t [have done it in this era], no,’’ he said. ‘‘Just because the talent pool is that deep now.
‘‘I’m not trying to say anything negative about other athletes, but the talent pool wasn’t that deep [when I played]. In this day and age, with all the high-tech training, computer-engineered workouts and the proper food and diet, if you try to concentrate on two sports, I guarantee you’re going to ride the bench in both because the talent is that deep. Stick to whatever sport you’re
comfortable with and let everything else go.’’
Hear that, Avi? Don’t even think about football.
‘‘If they want me to play, I play,’’ Garcia said. ‘‘No, I’m messing with you. I’m not too interested.’’