Baseball looms large on the minds of Chicago sports fans these days. The presidential primaries take a back seat to the beloved Cubbies, off to a great start with hopes to overcome an historical curse. As for aficionados on the south side of the city, optimism is at an unexpected high. The hype is largely due to the excellence of left-handed pitcher José Quintana, rapidly becoming the new pride of Colombian baseball.
Quintana, 27, was originally drafted by the New York Mets in 2006, but didn’t live up to expectations in the minor leagues and was released four years later. That now appears to be a mistake, even though the Mets have no shortage of quality arms. Quintana, like many Latino pitchers, has been a late bloomer. That’s common knowledge among the game’s top international scouts, and the patient White Sox rolled the dice and signed the southpaw to a free agent contract in 2011. It was a low-risk, high-reward investment for a club that has suffered pitching woes in recent years.
Since 2012, Quintana has quietly fine-tuned his craft as a rotation staple in Chicago, logging 744 innings with mostly tough luck results. This season, however, Quintana has won a bunch of games, averaged a strikeout per inning, and has compiled a stellar ERA of 1.40. Those numbers are equal to Chicago’s celebrated ace Chris Sale, yet José has continued to fly under the radar. White Sox manager Robin Ventura seems to acknowledge that fact, considering Quintana one of the most underrated hurlers in the business.
“I would put him in the top five (in that category),” says the Sox skipper. “He’s very reliable and highly respected in the clubhouse.”
Quintana has also opened the eyes of his people. Colombia has produced MLB stars like Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera, along with current Atlanta Braves standout Julio Teheran. That said, Quintana has clutched up to become the new hero, both in Chicago and in his native Arjona, near Cartagena. The confidence has soared to new heights, with Quintana and his teammates confirming that this season seems special.
“It’s way better this year,” says Jose. “The offense [supports] me and everybody. We all just do our jobs.”
If the White Sox surge is to continue, Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, and Adam Eaton will have to be extraordinary. David Robinson will have to close the door like his mentor, Mariano Rivera, and Sale will have to win 20 games. The X-factor, so to speak, would be Quintana. A career year by the southpaw could launch the Sox toward an all-Chicago World Series, assuming that the Cubs attend the dance. A positive sendoff for President Obama couldn’t be more appropriate.