Story details Jose Abreu defection

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jose Abreu's hitting prowess is well known following his historic rookie season last year, and now some light is being shed on his harrowing journey out of Cuba in 2013.

Details of a boat ride that departed from the Cuba shores at night, with six Abreu family members on board, were revealed Monday in a story by Chicago Magazine. It paints the picture of the boat setting a course "through 15-foot waves" to freedom.

Abreu was quoted in the story but offered little details of what was reported to be a 12-hour boat ride, with his family members often huddled in prayer during the trip. Before the White Sox worked out Monday morning, Abreu agreed to talk, but again offered few details.

"I agreed to the interview [with Chicago Magazine]; I don't know what they have written," Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "But I don't feel very comfortable talking about my journey from Cuba to the United States."

Many players who defect from Cuba often talk about the emotions involved with their own defections.

"Yeah, I don't want to discuss it," Abreu said again. "It's very sensitive, and I don't want to remember that part."

White Sox catcher Adrian Nieto, also a native of Cuba, offered the most details of Abreu's trip. The two became fast friends last season, with Abreu often crediting Nieto with helping him to adjust in a new country.

"It's completely different because my family is here. For me, my family is everything. To be able to get them here is awesome for me. It makes everything easier for me around the team and around my life because I have their support."
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"Jose was scared for his life in that little boat," Nieto said to Chicago Magazine. "Everybody was freaking out. At times, he was doubting himself. He had to pump himself up, saying, 'Let's go. You got to be the one to take charge here and be mentally strong to get everyone through this.'

"He told me many times: 'If it's everybody's life or mine, I'm going to make sure my parents and my sister live before I do.' Which is crazy for someone to tell you, that they'd put someone else in front of themselves. But that's how he is."

According to the magazine story, Abreu's boat eventually reached Haiti, with the family then moving on to the Dominican Republic.

In the Dominican, Abreu ultimately worked out for major league clubs, where White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams scouted him there personally. Williams has since famously said about that workout that it is the only one that ever made him want to "stand up and cheer" after it was completed.

The White Sox won the bidding war for Abreu with a six-year, $68 million deal that was the largest in team history. Some of the teams reported to be close in the bidding were the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies.

After Abreu hit 36 home runs, with 107 RBIs, a .317 batting average and a baseball-best .581 slugging percentage in 2014, the contract is now widely believed to be one of the better bargains in the game.

With that one season under his belt, Abreu's confidence in camp this spring has been soaring, despite the fact that he still hasn't delivered a home run in Cactus League play. He entered play Monday batting .484 (15-for-31) and a .613 slugging percentage, even without a long ball.

But on-field success isn't the only reason Abreu has been walking around with his head held high. When he was in spring training last year, his family remained in the Dominican Republic. They reportedly entered the United States in May, and by July they were free to travel.

The first game his family was able to watch him play in person in the United States was, fittingly, his appearance in the 2014 All-Star Game at Minneapolis.

"It's completely different because my family is here," Abreu said Monday morning. "For me, my family is everything. To be able to get them here is awesome for me. It makes everything easier for me around the team and around my life because I have their support."