How José Abreu made the visitors’ clubhouse feel like home for Yuli Gurriel

Hint: It involved maduros

Whether you like baseball, the Houston Astros, the Chicago White Sox or a good meal, there’s something for everyone in this story: friendship, camaraderie, national pride and, of course, home cooking.

It’s a simple and savory anecdote that usually slips under the noses of reporters, little gestures between players that occur before a game, out of sight of everyone else.

The team with the best record in the American League, the Astros, have just started an eight-game road trip with three dates against the White Sox. I was in the Astros’ dugout at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday, interviewing Yuli Gurriel, a candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Yuli isn’t your typical rookie: 33 years old, he’s already established as one the great Cuban players of all-time. But until late last season, he had never played Major League Baseball. To date, he has fulfilled expectations, hitting .294 with 59 RBI through Aug. 9.

We were talking about the cultural transitions in the United States, and the topic at hand was food. He said he has adjusted okay, mainly because players here look out for him.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

He said, “I walked into the clubhouse today and there was a Cuban meal waiting for me. I asked the clubhouse manager who sent it, and he said it came from José Abreu!”

Here is what Abreu, the White Sox All-Star and fellow Cuban, sent over to the Astros clubhouse — direct from Punta Cana, a Latino restaurant on Chicago’s North Side.

  • Arroz con frijoles (white rice and black beans, Cuban style)
  • Maduros (fried ripe plantains)
  • Bistec con cebolla (steak and onions)
  • Pollo a la jardinera (chicken with mixed vegetables)
  • Ensalada de aguacate (avocado salad)

Yuli said this was not a meal for one, and once the smell starting drifting through the clubhouse the vultures came swarming. Venezuelan José Altuve and Puerto Rican Carlos Beltrán joined the feast. Another boricua, Carlos Correa, traveling with the team while recovering from surgery on his left thumb, was happy to dig in.

I asked Abreu what prompted this outpouring of culinary hospitality. “I know the importance — and how difficult the adaptation process to this league and this country can be,” he said. “Being able to find a little taste of our culture in the places we go is very important and reminds us of home.”

“That is why I always try to help my fellow countrymen and make them feel comfortable here,” he added.

The Astros lineup is full of Latinos, with nine players on the 25-man roster, Correa and Michael Feliz on the disabled list and three coaches helping manager A.J. Hinch. Not surprisingly, the meal was quickly devoured.

Gurriel and Abreu have contracts that combined are worth around $60 million. They’re strong competitors, with the Astros leading the AL West Division and the White Sox at the bottom of the Central.

But among players — especially among Latinos playing baseball in the States — gestures, good deeds and friendships all count when they’re off the field. In moments like this, everyone is part of a big, great familia. And there’s nothing like food to remind you of home.

Even on the road — when home is more than 1,330 miles away.

Correction: A previous version of this story placed the Astros in the wrong division due to an editing error.

Featured Image:  Rob Tringali / Getty Images Sport

Inset Image: Mike Sear / La Vida Baseball