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Thaw in store? Abreu, Puig to meet in L.A.

6/3/2014

Sunny Southern California could be in store for a thaw of sorts this week.

When the Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig meet on a Major League Baseball field for the first time in a regular-season game, a relationship gone icy could finally start to warm.

Don't call this a feud, but the former stars and teammates in their native Cuba, who have continued their success in the United States, haven't been on the same page despite so many shared interests.

The first clue to a rift came this spring when the former rookie sensation Puig and the freshly signed Abreu met just once in the Arizona desert. Abreu described it as merely saying hello.

For those who might think spring training is a time for hard work and little socializing, consider that no player works out eight hours a day for 45 consecutive days. That would be physically reckless. An ample amount of spring days are done before noon, giving plenty of time to meet up with an old friend.

In fact, getting together in Arizona couldn't have been easier because Puig's Dodgers and Abreu's White Sox train at the same Glendale complex. The two clubhouses sit just a 9-iron apart, or perhaps a sand wedge apart for these two power swingers.

Asked about their relationship in recent days, both players have been cordial.

"In Cuba we had a very nice relationship, we were friends, brothers, but here in the United States, I've only had the opportunity to say hello one time in spring training," Abreu said for a piece reporter Pedro Gomez put together on "SportsCenter."

Said Puig in the same piece: "It's incredible what [Abreu] has done so far. I know him, he is a great hitter, a great baseball player, very disciplined in the box and very disciplined in everything he does. Everyone on [the White Sox] is going pretty well, and I wish that God will help them and that [Abreu] can continue to hit home runs, because that's what he does well. I think he might hit over 30 this year."

That's a lot of well-wishing for guys who didn't have much time to renew old acquaintances.

In a recent USA Today story, Abreu suggested that he would have been interested in renewing the friendship this year, but that Puig didn't seem to have the time for it.

"He hasn't communicated again with me, and I'm not going to try either," Abreu told the newspaper's Jorge L. Ortiz last month. "I don't have his phone number. I don't know, people in this system are strange. If you don't have time to talk, you don't have time to call me, then I don't either. I don't want to bother anybody. We were friends there [in Cuba]. I don't understand."

What is clear is that personality-wise Abreu and Puig are polar opposites. Puig has been dubbed by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly as a "wild horse." Abreu has been called "oso" ("bear" in Spanish) or Yogi (same concept), but he is neither menacing in person nor cartoonish.

Abreu never gets criticized for how he carries himself or for what he does on the field. Puig is a lightning rod for criticism whether it be arriving late on Opening Day, missing the cutoff man on throws from the outfield or forgetting situations while on the basepaths.

Then there are the mannerisms. When Abreu hits home runs, he simply lays the bat behind him and heads to first base. His rare moment of emotion on a home run came in late April, when he pounded his fist rounding first base. But that level of excitement came only because he had just hit a game-ending grand slam.

Staying true to his nature, Puig punctuates his home runs with bat flips high in the air. He skips out of the batter's box before beginning his jog around the bases. Criticism has come easily.

Abreu was asked if the criticism of Puig is unfair and the bear noted that there is plenty of room for the wild horse's style.

"That's actually part of the game," Abreu said, shortly before the White Sox left on their West Coast trip. "That's part of the spectacle. That's what people come to see. He's just got to control it a little bit his play. He means well. He plays hard."

Maybe a matchup of their new teams is what the baseball's two newest stars need to renew their friendship. Like a teenager who would rather spend time with his friends than family on graduation night, perhaps Puig meant nothing personal by his brush off of Abreu, he was just absorbed in his inner circle.

Personalities are known to clash. More important, though, for three games starting Monday night at Dodger Stadium, their talents will clash. That is really what everybody wants to see anyway.

"Well, we used to get along very well when we played in Cuba," said Puig, who is second in the NL with a .347 batting average. "He is a very good person and always tries to give you advice, the same way I assume others like [White Sox shortstop] Alexei [Ramirez], that has more time in the majors than him, are giving him advice.

"He always listens to everything you tell him, and that's why he always does well everywhere he goes, like when he played for Cuba at international events, and that why he is doing so well here in the major leagues."

It sure sounds as though their differences can be resolved. Maybe the resolution to it all can start with a group photo. The White Sox's Cuban-born players -- Abreu, Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo and Adrian Nieto -- can get together with the Dodgers' Cuban exports in Puig and Erisbel Arruebarrena.

"We're going to take it like a normal day in the past," Abreu said. "It's good to play against friends. [Puig] is a friend of mine. There's another guy there that is an infielder, Erisbel Arruebarrena, who played on the same team in Cuba. I'm looking forward to really saying hello to them."