CHICAGO – Even when he’s dressed in business casual – in this case, dark dress pants and a lavender button-down shirt – Avisail Garcia is intimidating.
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Garcia is built like some sort of Venezuelan linebacker. His eyes are dark and serious. His biceps fill his upper sleeves, and his neck and shoulder muscles prompt his shirt to incline sharply toward the collar.
God bless anyone who faces this guy when he has a bat in his hand.
But the mission here was to interview Garcia, toe to toe, away from the safety in numbers of the media scrum. The purpose was to gain a better understanding of the 22-year-old outfielder, who is expected to play a key role for the White Sox as they move toward a younger, more athletic roster in the seasons ahead.
Another goal? Try not to get crushed like a styrofoam cup by Garcia, who was talking and laughing with a few of his teammates before he was interrupted.
Start with a positive question, then. Time was ticking on the team’s media availability session, and soon the behemoth prospect would be whisked into another ballroom at the Palmer House Hilton to greet hundreds of cheering Sox fans.
What’s the best thing about the offseason?
A smile crossed Garcia’s face.
“Being with my daughter,” Garcia said. “That’s the best thing.”
And with that came a realization.
Garcia was a big softie.
Garcia’s wife, Anakarina, gave birth to the couple’s first child Sept. 16. The Sox slugger returned to the team a few days later, played the final 10 games of the season, and then turned his focus toward his burgeoning family and bright future.
As Garcia spoke about his daughter, he lifted his lavender sleeve.
On his left wrist, a cursive tattoo spelled out her name: Annarella.
“She’s amazing,” said Garcia, who has spent the bulk of his offseason with his family in Venezuela. “When she sees me, she’s just laughing, laughing, laughing. I play a lot with her, so she loves me a lot.”
At first, Garcia said, sleep was tough to come by as a new parent.
“First month? Nuh-uh,” Garcia said. “Second month? Nuh-uh.
“Third month and a half? Yes.”
Soon, though, Garcia will be playing games with his teammates instead of his family. The Sox are hoping for Garcia to emerge as a consistent, middle-of-the-order hitter after he batted .304 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 42 games late last season.
Maintaining a high batting average and on-base percentage will be tough for Garcia, a free swinger who has walked only 12 times in 307 big-league plate appearances. Yet his combination of power and speed caused Baseball America to rank him as Detroit’s No. 2 prospect and one of baseball’s top 100 prospects entering 2013.
One year later, Garcia is ready to take on the Sox’s full-time job in right field.
He also is ready to say goodbye to his daughter for a little while when he goes to spring training in Glendale, Ariz.
“It’s going to be hard, but I’ve prepared myself for that,” Garcia said. “I’ve been working, preparing my body. I think it’s going to be good. Hard, but good.”
Likewise, Garcia said he thinks that he can improve upon his first two stints in the majors. All told, he has hit .289 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs in 95 career games.
This winter, Garcia has worked out at a baseball academy in his home country. He tries not to model his playing style after anyone else – he wants to be himself, he said – but it’s tempting to imagine him following in the footsteps of other top Venezuelan hitters such as Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Bobby Abreu.
“I think I’ve got the chance to play here every day, working with these guys,” Garcia said, glancing toward his teammates. “I try to be consistent hitting, defensively, running. Try to win games. Try to beat my numbers from last year.”
And embrace how his life has changed as a dad.
“Yes,” Garcia said. “Better baseball player, better person, better everything.”
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.