CHICAGO – Somebody would be left behind.
White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez knew that as he contemplated the toughest decision of his life after representing Cuba at the World Baseball Classic in 2006.
Ramirez drew scouts’ attention when he hit .375 en route to Cuba’s silver medal in the WBC. Before that performance, Ramirez had little exposure on the intentional level against Major League Baseball players. While Ramirez won five gold medals representing Cuba in various tournaments, including an Olympic gold medal at Athens in 2004, competing and succeeding in the WBC was the proof he needed that he could play in the big leagues.
But when his wife’s residency was up – she was a surgeon in Cuba – and she had to return to her home in the Dominican Republic, Ramirez needed to decide: Follow his wife and his dream to compete in the majors or stay with the life he built in Cuba.
“It was an extremely difficult decision,” Ramirez said through translator Jackson Miranda. “And for me, it was a decision I had to make between my wife and my family and kids and my future, and my parents and my family. It was very, very difficult.”
Ultimately, Ramirez decided to take the risk and leave behind Cuba and his parents, signing with the Sox in 2007.
Ramirez has held his own in the majors. He finished second in the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year voting and won a Silver Slugger in 2010. This season, Ramirez’s .266 average, two home runs and 44 RBIs have helped the Sox build a three-game division lead at the All-Star break.
Ramirez’s two worlds collided last week with the arrival of his parents, Armando and Edith, who left Cuba and came to Chicago. On July 3, Ramirez’s parents watched their son play for the first time in a Sox uniform. The next day, his father threw a pregame ceremonial first pitch to Ramirez.
“I’m really excited, really happy,” Ramirez said. “It’s a great feeling and I thank God to have them here with me.”
Ramirez, along with teammate Dayan Viciedo, represents a rarity in the majors. Of active ballplayers, approximately 20 are from Cuba. The Cubs recently signed Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million contract, and the 20-year-old could be one of the next players to join the exclusive fraternity.
It won’t be easy considering some of the challenges Soler faces by coming to a new country, namely the language barrier. Ramirez said he still struggles with that five years after arriving in the U.S., but he is confident Soler will be all right.
“We’re all different, all Cubans are different,” Ramirez said. “Our rationales and thinking is all different. He’s a young kid, and he’s done really well for himself. He’s in a great position, and I feel that he’s going to do well.”