“Early on, I saw he had what it takes to persevere through all the ups and downs in baseball,” Chris said.
Early on, of course, C.J. saw himself exactly here. That’s what kids do, they warp reality to the shape of their naïve dreams.
On the fridge at home still hangs the essay C.J. wrote before entering middle school – titled “Oh, the places I’ll go” – in which he declared: “The goals I have set are to graduate from college and play baseball in the MLB.” Right now, those seem mutually exclusive goals. An Alabama commit, he’ll have to weigh the scholarship against a major league signing bonus in the millions. The majority of players choose Option B.
“I always wanted to play baseball at the next level. I always wanted to keep getting better and better. Put in the hard work and remember that it’s still a game, still have fun playing it,” C.J. said.
And, now, here a family anxiously awaits a night almost as big as any fantasy: Chris, who works for FedEx; Ruth, who works for Siemens; and C.J. who hopes very soon to be in the employ of Major League Baseball Enterprises, Inc.
Back at their Alpharetta home last week, the box C.J. received from Gatorade for being named Georgia’s player of the year just opened and the contents still on the living-room floor, a family simply was trying to cope with all that’s coming at it. It’s a blessing, his mother said quietly. Something of a tornado of experiences, his father said.
“I’ve been living and dying with every swing, so I’m happy it’s coming to a new beginning,” Chris concluded.
They all had a clue that something big was up on the first day of Blessed Trinity’s season, when the players showed up at the home field to take some batting practice before leaving for a road game. A ring of major league scouts was there just to see C.J. take some swings.
“I just kind of looked at them,” C.J. said. “Me and my teammates were laughing about it.”
(“And I’m thinking, ‘Just don’t swing a miss,’ Chris said with a smile.)
Just how does a teenager deal with that kind of scrutiny? This one in particular kept pretending they weren’t there.
“All the people there didn’t really change anything,” C.J. said.
How do you not try to show off for such a jury? “That’s just going to mess you up, trying to do more than what you can do. Just relax and play and have fun. Baseball’s always fun,” he said. That’s kind of a mantra with him.
What scouts have seen in C.J. is perhaps the fastest player out there, and an elegant fielder – “Great first step, great transfer guy, can throw from a million different angles. Just crazy athleticism,” Blessed Trinity coach Andy Harlin said.
So much of baseball tilts in the direction of power now, yet C.J.’s stats from his senior year don’t scream brute strength: He hit .431 with three home runs and scored 42 runs in 40 games. Abrams stands as a reminder that there are parts to this game that aren’t measured by launch angle.
When asked about a defining moment, Harlin doesn’t reach back for a walk-off blast or a stand-on-his-head fielding play. Why, it’s only a simple ground ball to first.
“One game he hits a routine ground ball right to the first baseman (just beyond and behind the bag), but he took off like it was a double in the gap,” Harlin recalled.
“He’s halfway (to the bag) when the guy has ball in his glove, and he just outran him to the bag. Pretty amazing to see someone do that. Shows the athleticism, but also shows what kind of player he is.
“He plays fast and does everything hard.”
Even though he lives in the Braves’ sphere of influence, C.J. doesn’t classify himself as a huge fan (the Braves pick ninth in the draft, presumably after Abrams has been taken). But one thing he certainly has paid attention to is the youth they have quickly cycled onto the field.
“I’m thinking that could be me,” he said. “Watching them play at a young age – some like (Ronald) Acuna got (promoted) at a real young age – I think I can get there pretty quick.”
Did we mention that he does everything fast, even dream?
“I’m not too patient,” C.J. said. “I want to get (to the big leagues) as fast as I can, obviously.”
He can scarcely wait for Monday and the rest of his life to get here.