Albert Almora Jr. spent his first night back in his hometown eating a vintage Cuban dinner his mom often made him growing up in Hialeah.
“I made him breaded chicken with rice and black beans,” Almora’s mother, Ana, said. “He loved it. It was great to have him back home.”
The food may have tasted great to Almora.
But it wasn’t the highlight of his homecoming.
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For the 22-year-old Chicago Cubs rookie outfielder who starred at Mater Academy Charter School, it was getting to share a hug with his mother and his father, Albert Sr., just before first pitch of the opening game of a four-game series between the Cubs and the Marlins.
“This is the ultimate,” Almora Sr. said as he and his wife each fought back tears. “I can die happy now. I saw him reach what I always hoped he could reach.”
Almora is optimistic his father will get to see him play for quite some time.
Almora Sr. could be nearing the end of his course of treatment as he battles prostate cancer.
Almora Jr. said his father, after undergoing prostate surgery, has two more radiation treatments scheduled in the coming days, and the outlook appears to be hopeful.
“It’s always affected Albert a little bit, but I always told him to keep pushing forward his career no matter what happens to me,” Almora Sr. said. “That’s life and we have to accept that these things happen.”
His father’s ordeal has motivated Almora, who was drafted by the Cubs with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft and made his major-league debut June 7.
Almora played for the Cubs’ Triple A affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, and hit .318 with three home runs and 30 RBI.
Following a game June 6, Almora got the call he had dreamed about his whole life.
His first call after that one was to his parents.
Almora Jr. was especially overjoyed to tell his father, who played baseball in his native Cuba and taught his son the game since he was 3 years old.
His parents took a plane to Chicago and surprised him when they came to watch him make his debut. Weakened by the treatments at the time, Almora’s father couldn’t watch him play the entire series.
But he said this weekend he plans to see as much of his son in action as he can.
“Last night, I was at home talking baseball the whole time and talking about how to improve at the plate,” Almora Jr. said. “In my family, we breathe baseball, both my dad and my mom. They taught me my passion for the game and gave me the confidence I could succeed.”
Almora started his seventh game for the Cubs on Thursday and hit seventh in the lineup. In 14 games overall entering Thursday, Almora has hit .286 (10 for 35) with five doubles and five RBI.
His arrival has been a boost for the Cubs after regulars Jorge Soler and Dexter Fowler each landed on the disabled list with hamstring injuries. Even after their return, the Cubs anticipate Almora could at the very least become valuable for outfield depth for the remainder of the season, although he also could be sent back to the minors to continue his development with regular playing time if there are not enough at-bats for him in the majors.
The chance to play not just in the majors, but for a team like the Cubs, who are trying to make history this season by winning a World Series for the first time since 1908, has been a dream for Almora.
“There’s a lot of talent on the Cubs, so for him as a rookie to be on a team like this is a great accomplishment,” Ana said. “But he knows he has to keep working hard.”
Almora Jr., who signed a $3.9 million signing bonus out of high school, has played at all three outfield positions and has not made an error, showing some of the same great defense that made him a top prospect.
Almora made his first visit to Marlins Park since 2012 when he participated in a predraft workout.
A first-team All-Dade star at Mater Academy and later for the United States’ 18-and-under team, Almora was named USA Baseball’s Player of the Year in 2011.
His experiences took to him to baseball fields all around the country and even the world.
But it was those cherished experiences at the local ballparks in Hialeah and in the greater Miami area that molded him into the player he is today.
“You don’t know how proud I am to be home in Miami and experience this special moment,” Almora Jr. said. “This is where it all started. All the sacrifices, all the dreams … playing in front of my family is something I always hoped I could do.”
On Thursday, Almora got to take a tour down memory lane with his mother as they drove to Marlins Park together, arriving at 1:30 p.m. before any of his teammates.
“I haven’t forgotten any of it,” Almora Jr. said. “[On Thursday] when I was coming over here, it all came back to me. All the Little League teams I played for, all the camps, all the times I went to play at other places. Today, I’m in the majors and it’s the start of a new chapter.”