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Delighted by Cuba exhibition, Jose Abreu ‘in shock right now’

Jose Abreu said he was thrilled that Major League Baseball was playing an exhibition in Cuba on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The game was their reason to buy a television.

Jose Abreu’s family wanted so badly to see the Orioles’ exhibition in Cuba in 1999 that they bought a black-and-white set. He still doesn’t know how his father found the money, but it was easier than scoring tickets.

The first baseman told the story Tuesday and looked up from his locker at Camelback Ranch. In the corners of the White Sox clubhouse, in full color and on comically large screens, was his homeland — again.

Tuesday, for the first time since 1999, a Major League Baseball team — the Rays —played an exhibition game in Cuba. Barack Obama, who invoked Abreu’s story during the lead-up to the game, sat behind home plate, the first President to visit the country in 88 years.

It was, to Abreu, nothing short of amazing.

“I am in shock right now,” he said through his translator, Billy Russo. “If you slap my face, I can’t believe it.”

Abreu left Cuba in 2013 and in December returned for the first time as part of an MLB delegation. He saw his son, 5-year-old Dariel Eduardo, for the first time in more than two years.

The visit helped streamline the process toward a game against the Cuban national team at Estadio Latinoamerica in Havana, which also hosted the Orioles exhibition.

“That’s something great,” Abreu said. “I think that we never thought that this could happen so soon.”

On Monday, Obama detailed Abreu’s story to ABC. The White Sox fan spoke with amazement that Abreu left a toddler to pursue his profession, and hoped that no longer requiring Cuban players to denounce their government upon leaving the island would help the “stitching back together” of the two countries.

Similarly, Abreu said his “goal every day” is to become a dual citizen.

“The people in Cuba were expecting this,” Abreu said. “They are huge baseball fans. They love baseball. This is a huge step for us, for people in Cuba and I want to thank again for President Obama for all of his kindness. He’s an outstanding man. For all the effort he has put into this, that’s huge for us.”

Abreu praised the Rays for bringing minor-league outfielder Dayron Varona, who grew up in Cuba, to play in front of his family.

“I don’t think people realize how important that is for us,” he said.

Abreu wants to be part of a game in Havana one day. Robin Ventura has been there, playing five games in Cuba in 1987 as a member of the USA national team.

“It was a different (experience) than the ones these guys are having, for sure,” the White Sox manager said. “It was fun. They love baseball down there, and I think it’s great they get to experience our guys going down there and playing. …

“I think it’s great. I know Jose’s interested. He wants to watch a little bit of it on TV. I actually played in that stadium before. I just want to see what it looks like.”

It was undoubtedly different than the stadium Abreu watched, on a small black-and-white television, when he was 12.

It was oddly the same, too.

“The only thing that I want people to know is that those guys there are human beings,” he said. “They are trying to give the best every day to make the best baseball …

“That’s all that I expect for people to understand. They are human beings, no matter what the situation, who are trying to get the best of them and try to get the best they can in life.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com