Eloy Jimenez didn’t trot from the dugout to left field before the start of the White Sox’ home opener Friday against the Mariners at Guaranteed Rate Field.
There was no been-there, done-that in the 22-year-old rookie’s gait during this little snapshot in time.
No, Jimenez ran. Sprinted, more like. Got out there so fast, he was the first Sox player to reach his defensive position. Even the infielders lagged behind as Jimenez dashed a long arc in left, saluting his adoring new fans in the bleachers with a silver glove raised high and mighty.
“E-LOY!” they shouted as one.
“I heard, ‘You’re the best!’ ” he said after a 10-8 victory. “Everything like that.”
With this guy, we’re going to find out what all the fuss is about, aren’t we?
Jimenez hasn’t done a whole lot of hitting yet, but if and when that changes — and, you might have heard, line drives and long balls are kind of Jimenez’s things — the Sox expect it will meet the city’s sports consciousness right on the sweet spot.
“We’ve talked about there being milestones that build momentum, that show the progress of this rebuild that we undertook the last couple years,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “And a home opener with Eloy in left field is one of those milestones.”
As far as Jimenez is concerned, he was ready to make the jump from the minor leagues last season. Instead, hesitant to start the clock on his service time, the Sox kept him stashed at Class AAA Charlotte, where he laid the lumber on everything that moved.
Anyway, it’s water under the bridge. After signing a six-year, $43 million extension late in spring training, he’s here now.
“It means a lot,” Jimenez said. “I waited for this last year, and now I’m here. And it feels really nice.”
Jimenez is such a big deal, the Sox literally had him delivered to the dugout in a Ford Mustang convertible before his debut on the South Side. OK, truth be told, all the Sox players were brought onto the field that way before being introduced to the crowd and taking their places along the third-base line. Only veteran slugger Jose Abreu heard louder cheers than Jimenez.
The 6-4 Dominican referred to this new chapter as a “dream come true.”
“I hope he handles it well,” manager Rick Renteria said. “[But] these guys are out here getting dirt under their spikes right now, working a little bit. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Jimenez looked more than fine as he dug in at the plate, his black bat held aloft by powerful hands fit into batting gloves so red they gleamed in the early-inning sunlight. His impressive appearance didn’t help him solve Yusei Kikuchi when the Mariners lefty delivered three strikes at speeds of 94, 87 and 77 mph. But, hey, this is the big leagues.
There’ll be plenty of time for circling the bases as the season goes on.
“He’s a good player,” shortstop Tim Anderson said. “I think he’s going to do great.”
It might be easier when he thaws a bit.
“It’s a little bit tough,” Jimenez said of the cold. “But I’m feeling more [comfortable]. It’s cold, but in my mind, I’m warm.”
On a day when Anderson and Yoan Moncada starred with their bats, Jimenez was a bit player. Yet, there he was, clapping into his glove in left as closer Alex Colome reached a two-strike count with two outs in the ninth inning. And when Colome got the game-ending strikeout, Jimenez threw his fist in the air and pumped his arm with a flourish.
He pointed into the stands down the left-field line. Then he turned and pointed into the bleachers. The last of the outfielders to reach the infield for handshakes and back slaps, Jimenez did a little dance for Anderson before mugging into a camera.
Frankly, the whole thing had been more fun than he’d expected.
“It was the fans,” he said. “I expected it was going to be good, but not that — [that was] great.”
For the second year in a row, the Sox can look in the mirror after six games and see a 3-3 team. Last year, it was more like a mirage; they immediately went into a 1-11 tailspin. This year? Yeah, we know — it’s still crazy early.
But Jimenez — sorry, “E-LOY!” — is here. It sure feels different.