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So, do you really think you’re ready for the big leagues?
I’m hearing that question a lot these days — or at least some version of it.
Are you prepared to play baseball on the biggest possible stage?
Are you ready to compete against the best players in the world?
What can the fans expect from you?
How will it be for you playing in Chicago?
And anytime I’m asked about that stuff, two things pop into my head. First: I think about how the person asking me these questions must not know how far back me and the city of Chicago go, because I’ve been waiting for this exact moment since I was a little kid. And second, I find myself thinking back to what it took for me to get to where I am, what I have overcome … and how, after all that, there’s no way I’d ever let myself come this far to be anything less than great.
Going all the way back to when I was a young boy playing ball in Santo Domingo, I’ve had to face and overcome one challenge after another. I mean, even the very first baseball game I ever played in presented adversity.
You gotta hear what happened. It’s crazy. To this day, I still almost can’t believe it.
I was nine at the time — which is super old by Dominican standards — but I grew up in a neighborhood called Villa Francisca where the most popular sport was basketball, so I got a late start with baseball. My first game ever was over at the Olympic Center in the capital city. It’s this big athletic complex with nice turf fields and lots of bleachers where people can sit and watch. Being in that place had me feeling really good about giving this baseball thing a shot.
So I’m batting sixth for my team, and when my turn to hit finally comes around I step into the batter’s box all excited and ready to hit the ball a long way.
I dig in, and grip the bat really tight, and then the pitcher winds up and throws a fastball that leaves his hand and….
Hits me right in the side of the head.
Like just … BAM!!!!!
First pitch. Right in the head.
Welcome to baseball, Eloy.
via Eloy Jiménez
Now it was only Little League, so the pitcher couldn’t have been throwing all that hard. But to me it seemed like — and felt like — it was a Pedro Martinez fastball that had drilled me.
When I got hit, it didn’t even seem like I was wearing a helmet. It just felt like the ball was pitched straight into my head.
And after that, well … I was done. I was very angry. I just kept thinking: What kind of sport has you go out on the field and get drilled right in the head with a hard ball?
“No more baseball for me,” I told my father. “No way. That’s it. Never again.”
I mean, no one hit me in the head when I played basketball. So I was ready to go back to hoops. I told everyone who asked that I was never going to play baseball again as long as I lived.
But you know how kids are.
A few weeks later, my dad saw me sitting around the house, bored out of my mind because I didn’t have basketball practice that day.
“Hey, why don’t you go give baseball one more shot, Eloy?”
I shook my head.
“Come on. Just Go! Why not? One more shot. There’s no harm in you giving it just one more try.”
So I marched off to the field, mainly just to kind of get him off my back, and in my first at bat of the game….
I hit a bomb.
Home run. No doubt. Long gone.
So then I’m running around the bases kind of intentionally trying my best to keep being against baseball, and to keep hating it in my mind, but on the inside just being like, “Oh, wow, you know what, this feels really, really … GOOD!”
And from that point on, I was in.
I still played basketball after that, but I got better and better and better at baseball the more I played.
In basketball, I wasn’t tall enough to dunk. But in baseball, I could hit the ball further than anyone on my team. And that kind of felt to me like what it’d be like to dunk. So instead of dunking….
I hit bombs.
And won MVP trophies at tournaments. And league batting titles.
And then, after a little while, I forgot all about wanting to dunk.
via Eloy Jiménez
When I was 12, my dad sat me down for a talk. He’d seen how far the baseballs went when I hit them. And he’d come to a decision.
“From now on, Eloy, you are only going to play baseball.”
He was super calm and measured about it, too.
“Zero basketball. You hear me? Zero.”
And that was that.
I didn’t fully understand why I couldn’t still do both. And there may have been one or two times when I snuck my basketball shorts and tank top under my baseball uniform and went to the courts to shoot around before I went over to the baseball diamond.
But from that time forward I was a baseball player.
Baseball was going to be my way out of Villa Francisca.
My dad would tell me that constantly because he always wanted something better for me. We lived in a pretty poor neighborhood, and people would take care of each other there for the most part. But there was a lot of crime, and it wasn’t always the safest place to live. Let me put it this way: During the day, everyone was nice. Everyone treated you well. But when night fell, it was a whole other world. By eight or nine o’clock, crime would start to happen, and it would get worse as the night went on.
It got so bad that sometimes the police would come by and round up everyone who was out on the street and take them into custody without asking any questions. They’d just storm through and do a sweep, and people would be gone before you even knew what happened.
So not only did we have to be worried about the people committing crimes, we also had to be concerned about getting caught up in one of these raids by the police.
It just always seemed like there was a lot to be worried about when I was a kid.If I wasn’t at the table doing my homework by 6:45, I’d be in big trouble with my father.
My dad saw everything that would go down in our neighborhood, and he would always talk to me and my brother about doing the right things. There were people around, people we saw every day, who were doing bad things. People who would break the law, or steal, or get into fights. And my father always told us that we should be better than that.
Strike that. He made sure we would be better than that.
I had to be in the house by 7 every day. And, really, he would say 7 … but that actually meant 6:45. Like, if I wasn’t at the table doing my homework by 6:45, I’d be in big trouble with my father. He was very strict back then. But I’m thankful every day for that now, because he taught me right from wrong starting at a very young age. My mom also instilled those values of discipline and hard work. She was strict, too. But she’d also constantly be telling me that I was going to be special — that my time would come soon enough and that I was going to grow up and do amazing things one day. They both really raised me to believe in myself and to never think any challenge was insurmountable.
And you better believe that everything my parents taught me about doing the right thing, and being dependable and working hard, will be a big part of the person you see and get to know when I’m fortunate enough to be playing ball over on the South Side.
And … about Chicago.
I mean, what can I say? Don’t get me started.
I don’t mean to get too emotional or sappy about it, but I honestly look at the city of Chicago as a place that God brought into my life for a special reason. A place where He has wanted me to be even from the time that I was a little kid running around back in the DR.
Truly. Like divine intervention.
Not too many people know this, but I’ve actually been coming to Chicago to play ball from the time I was 11 years old. Our traveling team would come up to compete in tournaments, and to this day I still remember being completely blown away by those visits.
Everything about the city just had me in awe — the huge buildings, all the things to do and places to eat, the energy of the people, just … everything.
I recall literally telling a bunch of my friends back then that one day I was going to be playing there.
“This is where I want to be,” I’d say. “I want to play ball in Chicagooooo!”
Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports
Every summer up until I was 14, we’d make that trip, and every summer my love for the city would grow even greater.
After my first visit, I began to read everything I could about Michael Jordan and watch tons of his highlight videos. And as baseball became a bigger and bigger focus for me, I started digging in and learning about the careers of guys like Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome, and Sammy Sosa, and on and on and on.
There are just so many sports legends that have played in the city of Chicago. And, I can tell you right now that I want to be right up there with those guys someday.
I want to make Chicago proud, and to repay this town for all the amazing experiences it provided me as a young boy.
And I want to help bring White Sox fans another World Series trophy.
Or, even better yet, a few of them.I want to help bring White Sox fans another World Series trophy. Or, even better yet, a few of them.
It might seem like I’m a bit young to be saying that stuff, and dreaming so big, but I’m not afraid to put it out there. I want to do big things, and I expect to be part of something special with the Sox for a long, long time.
One thing I know is going to help me a lot when I first get to Chicago and begin my career with the White Sox is that I’ve always been the young guy on all the teams I’ve played on ever since I was a little kid.
When I was 11, I’d go and play with the 13- and 14-year-olds. When I was 14, I left home to live and train at a baseball academy, and I was playing on a team with guys who were 16, 17 and 18. So I’m used to being the rookie. I’m used to showing respect to the older guys, and learning everything I can from them, while at the same time knowing that no one is going to be taking it easy on me, and that I’ll be expected to produce just like everyone else.
I get that. I love that. It excites me, and it’s part of what fuels me.
This stage is not going to be too big for me. I can promise you that. I know that I’ll be able to handle anything that comes my way. I’ve already had tons of practice dealing with adversity in this game, and I’ve just kind of taken it all in stride.
Harry How/Getty Images
And it’s definitely been like a rollercoaster at times.
I mean, in 2013 I went from being in tears after breaking my foot a few weeks before the international signing day, to crying tears of joy when the Cubs decided to sign me anyway. Then, the following season, living in Arizona and being so far away from my family and not knowing the language … that was probably the toughest year of my life. I just felt so alone in every way.
Off the field, I was a fish out of water.
I remember going to a Chipotle soon after I arrived in the U.S. and trying to pick out food without really knowing what was what. None of the workers there spoke Spanish, and I didn’t realize I was choosing all the spiciest things they had. I just kept having to guzzle more and more water in order to be able to swallow the food.
Until I talked to some teammates, I just assumed everything at Chipotle was really, really hot. And stuff like that just seemed to keep happening to me almost every day.
On the field, I hit .227 in rookie ball that year. It was awful.
But two years later, in 2016, after working my butt off, I’d made it to the Futures Game in front of a huge crowd in San Diego and had a home run and four RBIs.
Suddenly everybody knew my name.
Then I get traded across town.
I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that getting traded was easy, or that I didn’t take it hard.
It wasn’t. And I did.
I mean, no one ever expects to get traded away from the team that signed you.
I remember when I got the phone call about the deal, and was told that I got traded, literally the first thing I said was.
I just felt like I must have done something wrong.
Then I realized that I might be changing teams….
But I wasn’t changing cities.
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images
And now, here we are. It’s a little over a year since that trade.
I’m hitting the ball better than ever, I’ve been working out with a personal trainer and nutrition expert on a daily basis, and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m not playing around. This is serious. I’m trying to be an All-Star. I want to make it to the Hall of Fame. And I’m fully prepared to put in the work that is required to make those dreams a reality.
So everyone wants to know.
Everyone keeps asking me.
Everyone is looking for me to just come out and say it.
Well, you know, here you go:
Chicago, I’m ready!
I’m ready to go.
I’m ready to put on that White Sox uniform and show you all what I can do.
I’m ready to be part of this community and to meet all the fans and to make it clear to you that there is a new era of White Sox baseball on the horizon with a bunch of exciting young players who are looking to make history.
I want to be someone White Sox fans can be proud of.
And, well, what can I say: I want to hit bombs.
Lots and lots of bombs.
Am I ready for the big leagues?
I’m beyond ready.
And hey, as long as I don’t get hit by the baseball during my first at bat in a White Sox uniform, I’m pretty sure my debut is gonna go just fine.
See you on the South Side!