Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Cuban Missile

He sits in silence at his locker with his feet up, hands on head and eyes closed. No one is near him as he eventually opens his eyes. After putting a shirt over his skinny torso, Alexei Ramírez begins inspecting his custom-made bats, oblivious to most of his teammates at the far end of the locker room watching ESPN and playing cards. Moments earlier Ramírez struck out in the ninth inning as the White Sox lost the first game of a doubleheader.


Indeed, Ramírez has much to think about. Above his locker is a small Cuban flag with the words CUBA POR SIEMPRE or Cuba Forever. Below the flag are autographed photos of him and White Sox pitcher José Contreras. Growing up they played together for two seasons for their hometown team Pinar del Río in Cuba before defecting to the United States. Contreras is a veteran player on the disabled list and near retirement. Ramírez, however, is nearing the end of his first season as the White Sox’s starting second baseman. This is his first year in the United States.


I wait until he finishes inspecting his bats in solitude. Then I introduce myself and show him photos I had taken while visiting Cuba. Ramírez smiles when he sees the baseball stadium in his hometown. He immediately recognizes a baseball coach in another photo. With a population of about 125,000, Pinar del Río is about 105 miles southwest of Havana. It is surrounded by the world’s best tobacco farming and is known for its pastel-colored, neoclassical buildings with decorative art nouveau frontages. To say its people are friendly and hospitable is an understatement. Like most of Cuba, this bodes well for its two largest economic industries, cigars and tourism. Foreigners, however, prefer relaxing along the beaches or gazing at the beautiful scenery in the nearby town, Viñales. This is why Pinar del Río doesn’t have much going on other than baseball.



And so here begins Ramírez’s story. He tells me about how he began playing baseball at age 7. His mom didn’t want him playing because she thought he was too small, but his first coach convinced her otherwise. Ramírez soon was given the nickname Pirineo, or little kid, from a close friend because he was always the smallest player on the field. Off the field he didn’t have any hobbies, and so baseball consumed much of his free time. His single-mindedness paid off. By age 21, Ramírez batted .342 in his first full season in Cuba’s professional league. Fully grown he earned a new nickname, “the Cuban Missile” because of his combination of power and speed. At the 2006 World Baseball Championships, Ramírez batted .375, attracting scouts attention in the process. In 2007 he led Cuba’s pro league with 20 homeruns in 89 games. It was obvious his skills had outgrown Cuba. He also had experience playing shortstop and centerfield.


It was his family life, however, that would soon change his baseball career. By September 2007, he had married a Dominican named Mildred, who got her medical degree in Cuba, and they had two children. At that time Ramírez, 25, obtained a tourist visa to visit her family. Once in the Dominican Republic he applied for residency. In the D.R. he began trying out for Major League Baseball teams as a free agent. On Dec. 21, 2007 he signed a four-year contract with the White Sox for $4.75 million.


Sometimes Ramírez thinks about how much his life has changed. How he spent seven years traveling to games in the same bus that ordinary Cubans use when traveling to other towns. How he made less than a hundred dollars per month playing the same game that he now is paid millions to play despite being unable to talk to most of his teammates (he doesn’t speak English). How in many ways at 6’3”, 185 pounds he is still a skinny baseball player.

“Being here for me has been a 180-degree change,” Ramírez says. “The mannerisms of the people are very different and the people here think different than the people in my country.”



White Sox manager and Venezuelan native Ozzie Guillén can relate. “The Big Leagues are a big adjustment,” Guillén says. “It is just everything for him -- country, cities, weather, food. He is doing real well. On the field is the easy part because he has friends here. When he is off the field, you worry about this the most. But I think this kid has done great and had a good year.”


Ramírez says he has spent a lot more time studying pitchers in the United States than he had in Cuba. His statistics are not much different than in Cuba. Among White Sox starters, he has the highest batting average (.296) while hitting 20 homeruns (setting a MLB rookie record with 4 grand slams, the most this year).


“Whatever point of view you look at it, baseball is baseball,” says Ramírez about the comparisons between professional baseball in Cuba and MLB. “The biggest differences are that the players are more experienced here, it is more consecrated, and they put more thought into it…. Latino baseball is a lot more heated (emotional might be a better English translation).”

In the clubhouse Ramírez seems a lot more reserved than many of his Latino teammates. When he isn’t playing baseball he is with his wife and three children. He enjoys eating at different Latin restaurants or taking his children to the park. The rest of his family is in Cuba and he calls home as much as he can. He takes each day as it comes, he says, and doesn’t outline his goals. When mentioned of returning to Cuba, he says he eventually would like to, but he made me promise I wouldn’t talk about anything political. Thus, even in America he abides by Cuba’s unspoken rules to keep quiet about taboo subjects such as defecting and politics. Beyond politics, Ramírez will have plenty to think about.


White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who grew up in Cartagena, Colombia, says culture was the most difficult adjustment he faced playing baseball in America. “It’s a different culture,” Cabrera says. “I think Latinos bring a passion to the game, and make it more interesting.”

Much of that passion comes from the fact that Latinos don’t have the exposure or option of playing other sports. In addition, it is a year-round sport in the Caribbean and children are playing outside rather than watching television or playing video games. For some, their lives will change overnight just like Alexei Ramírez.

This Alexei Ramírez story first appeared in The Chicago Sports Review.



7 comments:

One J said...

michael kors
ralph lauren outlet
louis vuitton handbags
coach outlet online
retro 11
oakley sunglasses wholesale
coach outlet online
cheap oakley sunglasses
kd shoes
coach factory outlet
jordan 5
abercrombie store
true religion jeans
jordan 8 playoffs
coach outlet online
retro jordans
oakley sunglasses wholesale
burberry scarf
red timberland boots
tods outlet
football jerseys
michael kors
cheap oakley sunglasses
louis vuitton
oakley sunglasses
20150603yuanyuan

Qing Cai said...

mulberry uk
louis vuitton uk
indianapolis colts jerseys
roshe run men
custom mlb jerseys
the north face uk
nba jerseys, http://www.nbajerseys.us.com
kate spade outlet
the north face clearance
atlanta falcons jersey
lululemon
mbt shoes
chanel handbags
tiffany and co jewelry
christian louboutin outlet
michael kors outlet, http://www.michaelkorsoutletonlinestores.us.com/
cleveland cavaliers jersey
cheap nfl jerseys, http://www.cheap-nfljersey.us.com/
jordan 4
cheap oakley sunglasses, http://www.oakleysunglasses-outlet.us.com
burberry outlet,burberry outlet online,burberry outlet store,burberry factory outlet,burberry sale,burberry
true religion outlet, http://www.truereligionoutletstore.us.com
links of london
rolex watches uk
michael kors outlet, http://www.michaelkors-outlets.us.com
christian louboutin sale
michael kors outlet
nike outlet store
puma shoes
calvin klein outlet
cai2015902

mmjiaxin said...

washington redskins
kobe 9
pandora outlet
michael kors online outlet
ugg outlet
michael kors outlet sale
hollister uk
michael kors outlet
michael kors handbags
true religion outlet
michael kors outlet
lebron shoes
louis vuitton handbags
michael kors outlet online
cheap ray ban sunglasses
hermes outlet store
toms outlet
lululemon pants
michael kors handbags
mulberry uk
rolex uk
mm1106

huangqing said...

tory burch outlet
oakley sunglasses
christian louboutin outlet
ralph lauren polo
reebok trainers
ray-ban sunglasses
nhl jerseys
hermes birkin bag
mlb jerseys
tory burch outlet online
louis vuitton bags cheap
michael kors wallet sale
hollister clothing store
reebok shoes
michael kors outlet online
chrome hearts outlet online
tory burch shoes
michael kors outlet
michael kors bags
ralph lauren uk
pandora jewelry
cheap oakley sunglasses
swarovski crystal
coach outlet
true religion jeans
cheap nfl jerseys
polo shirts
ralph lauren uk
michael kors uk
prada outlet online
coach outlet online
nike huarache
jordan shoes 2015
football shirts
oakley sunglasses
16.6.8qqqqqing

John said...

louis vuitton outlet
toms shoes
true religion uk
michael kors bags
mont blanc pens outlet
north face outlet
tory burch outlet online
cheap nike shoes
christian louboutin uk
air max 95
fitflops sale clearance
converse all star
cheap jordan shoes
louis vuitton outlet online
michael kors handbags
cheap nfl jerseys
valentino shoes
michael kors outlet
coach outlet
coach purses
versace
michael kors outlet stores
ralph lauren pas cher
nike air force
black timberland boots
ralph lauren
mlb jerseys wholesale
coach factory outlet
louboutin pas cher
michael kors outlet clearance
the north face outlet
201679yuanyuan

cara menggugurkan kandungan said...

This blog is so nice to me. I will continue to come here again and again. Visit my link as well. Good luck
http://www.jualobataborsiherbal.com/ obat aborsi
http://caramenggugurkankandungan.info/ cara menggugurkan kandungan
http://obataborsi59.com/ obat aborsi
http://obataborsi59.com/cara-menggugurkan-kandungan-dengan-cepat-dan-aman/ cara menggugurkan kandungan
http://obattelatdatangbulan.info/ obat telat datang bulan
http://klinikobataborsi.com/ jual obat aborsi
http://jualobatpenggugurkandungan.net/ obat penggugur kandungan
http://tandatandakehamilan.net/ tanda tanda kehamilan
http://tandatandakehamilan.net/cara-cepat-dan-selamat-menggugurkan-kandungan/ cara menggugurkan kandungan

obat pelancar haid said...

obat pelancar haid

obat pelancar haid

obat pelancar menstruasi

obat telat bulan

obat telat datang bulan

obat haid manjur

obat aborsi

obat aborsi manjur