Reigning MVP Jose Abreu joins White Sox at spring training

Jose Abreu has joined the White Sox at spring training after a delay due to a positive coronavirus test during Major League Baseball’s intake protocols.

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Jose Abreu takes part in drills at White Sox spring training Saturday in Glendale, Ariz. (Daryl Van Schouwen)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Abreu walked from the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch on Saturday with a bunch of balloons attached to his gear. When he got there, he released them into the sunny, blue Arizona sky.

“There goes the rest of Pito’s -COVID!” a teammate yelled.

There are no seashells in the desert, but there were balloons and love for a team leader, and everything was beautiful again at White Sox camp, thanks to the arrival of the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, whose late start (by five days) was due to a positive coronavirus test taken during MLB’s intake protocols.

Returning to the Sox’ training facility, Abreu was greeted with three 12-foot-long banners. One read, “Welcome back, Jose,” another “We missed you!” and a third said, “our MVP, our leader.”

To applause from teammates and staff, Abreu was then welcomed by manager Tony La Russa, all of which — balloons included — Abreu found touching.

“That was a very, very good surprise,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that. I think that came from the organization, maybe Tony had something to do with it. Those are the little things, the little details that make you feel proud to be a White Sox player and make you feel proud to be a baseball player.”

Abreu, wearing a mask initially with a large No. 79, was full-go, taking part in all of the team’s defensive drills. He took batting practice, faced live batting practice against hard-throwing right-hander Zack Burdi — taking a high heater under his chin for a ball before getting called out on strikes on a fastball on the outside corner — and participated in the team’s short scrimmage.

He will need at least a few days to be game-ready, however. The Sox’ Cactus League opener is Sunday.

“I would play if they needed me,” he said in typical Abreu fashion.

The Sox said Abreu was completely asymptomatic of COVID, which he said he contracted in January. He felt a mild headache “for a day” and a runny nose at the time, did not stop his offseason workout routine and felt fully recovered when he came to Arizona but carried antibodies that showed up in testing.

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Abreu said he feels no effects now and is 100% but feared putting his family at risk “because of all the news about the virus and all the death around the world because of the virus,” he said.

“You start thinking ‘What’s going to happen now? Are they good? Are they having any issues?’ ’’

For the last eight days in Arizona before he was cleared to join the team, Abreu stayed in a hotel room, working out to a YouTube video.

It was the end of what he called “a difficult process.”

“This situation is when you realize who your friends really are and the people who love you and care about you,’’ Abreu said. ‘‘And I appreciate that.”

Last year, Yoan Moncada tested positive for the coronavirus during summer camp intake but was ready for Opening Day. He spoke openly this week about how it drained him. But the Sox don’t believe Abreu’s case is similar.

“I go by what the doctors and trainers say,” La Russa said, “and when they looked through the situation, they felt like MLB was being properly cautious. I think he’s in a different situation than Yoan. The other part that’s different is the extent, 30 games starting tomorrow, that we’ve got to get him ready to go [for Opening Day]. Health-wise, there are good reports about what he’s gone through and where he is now and what we can expect, which is a healthy player.”

And a welcome one, to be sure.

“It was a good morning, a very good workout, a very good first day for me,” Abreu said. “Being around these guys, they give you that energy to work hard and feel inspired. That’s something we have to carry over into the season. It’s a really good feeling we have right now.”

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