GLENDALE, Ariz. — In Cuba, Yoan Moncada’s favorite time to play baseball was 1 o’clock in the afternoon, when the sun was at its blazing peak, he said.
“We liked it really hot,’’ Moncada said. “Here, you have to get used to the cold, but in my case, I’m not comfortable with it. I hate to play in cold weather.’’
Join the club, Yoan. International players from hot-weather climes, Floridians and Midwesterners alike are all with you on that one. Hitting, fielding and throwing a baseball are about feel, and it’s tough to do those things with numb or sore hands caused by April temperatures in the 30s or low 40s.
When it’s often cold, damp and windy during the first month of the season, getting jammed and making contact on the handle or end of the bat can sting for an inning or two. When good contact is made, bats aren’t as flexible, and the ball typically doesn’t carry as well. Grips on baseballs aren’t as firm.
Noses are runny, eyes water and mind over matter becomes key.
Just ask Jose Abreu, Moncada’s countryman from Cuba. He’s endured four Chicago Aprils now and hates playing in the colder weather.
“Do you have any advice?” Abreu asked a lifelong Chicagoan in Spanish.
Fake an injury and take the day off?
“No,” Abreu said, shaking his head.
Abreu’s numbers in his four U.S. seasons seem to reflect changes in the weather. His OPS is .834 and .786 in April and May, respectively. When it warms up? In June (.916), July (.905) and August (.951), his bat heats up, too.
He says he will have to advise Moncada, who got called up from Class AAA Charlotte for his White Sox debut in July, on how to handle the cold. Playing 12 home dates and four in Minneapolis in April is one challenge facing Moncada, the prized 21-year-old second baseman approaching his first full season in the majors.
“We’ll have to check all the options for him when the season starts,’’ Abreu said. “We’ll have to figure something out.’’
On a sunny, 60-degree day in the desert, Moncada singled and walked in three plate appearances against the Reds in the Sox’ third Cactus League game.
For Latin players, cold weather can be a real thing early on.
“It’s a little hard because where we come from, it’s not cold,’’ said Sox catcher Welington Castillo, who’s from the Dominican Republic.
Castillo remembers his first April with the Cubs.
“It was really windy and kind of snowing,’’ Castillo said. “I couldn’t feel my hands. Every time I caught a pitch, it hurt my hand. It wasn’t fun, and you keep asking the veteran guys, ‘What do you do?’ ’’
The best advice Castillo received was to cover his skin with baby oil or Vaseline.
“You never get loose,’’ he said. “But it’s all right. It’s just one month.’’
“If you prepare mentally, you’ll be fine,’’ Venezuelan infielder Yolmer Sanchez said. “You have to make the adjustment. A lot of players use Vaseline [on their skin]; that keeps the body warm and helps. I think Yoan will be good. You just have to say, ‘Let’s go.’ ’’
In his first full season, adjustments will be a way of life for Moncada, not only on how pitchers pitch to him and the weather, but adapting to a new culture, language and city.
Moncada says he’s something of a homebody and didn’t see a whole lot of Chicago during his 2½ months last summer.
“What I’ve seen is beautiful,” he said.
Aside from hitting up a Chipotle near where he stayed, Moncada wasn’t a big out-to-eat guy. And he’s not big on nightlife, either, he said.
“No, no, I’m not that kind of person,’’ he said. “I don’t like to go out and go crazy. I like to be low-profile.’’
Having Abreu around has helped, but being away from friends in Cuba was difficult and still is.
“I miss my friends,” Moncada said. “I still miss them. That is the biggest thing I have to deal with.’’
We’ll see if April has something to say about that.
Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.