Cubs' veterans welcome Albert Almora Jr. to big leagues in style

ATLANTA -- Days after making his major league debut, Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. experienced his first off day on the road with his new teammates. Hanging out at a mall with Jake Arrieta in Atlanta might not sound meaningful, but for the 22-year-old Almora, it meant the world.

“It was awesome,” Almora said. “It was like he was a big brother. We saw Dex [Fowler] and KB [Kris Bryant] out there. It was amazing.”

This was a mall, not an amusement park, but it didn’t matter to Almora, who’s getting to experience a dream come true. Hanging out with his new friends this past Thursday was just the beginning, as Almora received a special gift at one high-end store.

“I got him a little something,” Fowler said. “You know, congratulations on his first hit in the big leagues.”

Almora gushed over the generosity.

“Dexter bought me a Louis Vuitton wallet,” Almora said, smiling. “It was unbelievable. I was going to buy it myself, and he picked it up and said, ‘You’re not buying that.’ I don’t know how many hugs I gave him. I thanked him, I thanked his wife, I thanked his whole family. They took care of me really well.”

If that wasn’t enough, Almora and Arrieta had dinner together as well. The Cubs' Cy Young winner has become that guy on the team who helps welcome others into the fold. The next day Arrieta had breakfast with Chris Coghlan after his return to the team, but it’s the rookie whom the pitcher had the most interest in.

“We had dinner,” Arrieta said. “Had a beer. Just kind of got to know each other. I didn’t get real personal with him last year or in the spring. We talked about our families. He’s going to be a mainstay here.”

In just a few days, Almora has made memories that will stay with him for a long time. It all started with his first moments on a big league field in Philadelphia this past Tuesday.

“What stands out for me is getting that first win in Philadelphia, my first hit, my first assist,” he recalled. “Those are things I’ll cherish forever. Then hanging out with the guys. This team is unbelievable.”

Just like last year, the Cubs' veterans know they need the young players to succeed for them to achieve their ultimate goals. There can’t be any stragglers, so helping a guy like Almora along is paramount.

“You want to make all your guys feel comfortable and make the transition as easy as possible,” Arrieta said.

The smile on Almora’s face told the whole story of his first week -- including his time at a suburban mall.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “I’m so happy to be here.”