Ramirez, Viciedo learning from fellow Cuban Minoso

Ramirez, Viciedo learning from fellow Cuban Minoso

CHICAGO -- There are times when White Sox legend Minnie Minoso puts a call into Alexei Ramirez, the American League Central leader's starting shortstop, and it has nothing to do with baseball.

"Minnie is one of those people who gives me advice, not only baseball related, but in life," said Ramirez, through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Jackson Miranda. "He calls me up and says, 'Hey, let's go fishing or let's play dominoes.'

"He's a guy that is just there for you. It's a great presence to have around."

Minoso, at a healthy and lively 86 years old, sometimes looks as if he could still go out and take a swing or two. "The Cuban Comet" became the first black player to ever play for the White Sox franchise on May 1, 1951, hitting a home run off of Vic Raschi in that initial plate appearance. In 1983, Minoso had his No. 9 jersey retired, following 12 seasons with the White Sox over five stints. The White Sox unveiled a sculpture of the seven-time All-Star in 2004, which still sits in the U.S. Cellular Field outfield concourse.

But for Ramirez and left fielder Dayan Viciedo, both of whom began their baseball career and life in Cuba -- like Minoso -- the affable figure and White Sox icon represents a friend, a mentor and somewhat of a trailblazer. It's a legacy Ramirez and Viciedo began to understand more upon arriving in Chicago.

Baseball is joining in the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the tremendous impact of players from all over Latin America has been felt with every Major League team.

"Originally, I didn't know much about Minnie," Ramirez said. "Being in Cuba, there wasn't that much information coming in that direction. So ... when I first heard about Minnie and his story, it was in 2007. Once I did, I just had an immense appreciation for what he's done for our country and for us as ballplayers, and how he has opened those doors."

"For me being younger, I would say that I didn't know much about Minnie until once I was called up initially," said Viciedo, through Miranda. "That's when I heard about Minnie and his story. Then I got to know him and see what a great player he is."

Much like his teammate Ramirez, Viciedo has come to know Minoso as a friend and sounding board in relation to the change of cultures and baseball.

"I've actually gotten to talk to him quite a bit, and we've had great conversations," Viciedo said. "One of the best things about Minnie, especially with me, he's always giving me advice. It was great to hear from someone who has done it before.

"Just a little advice about little things, like playing the outfield. I would say one of the biggest pieces of advice he has given me is let it go at its pace. Don't try to hurry it up. It's the same baseball you play in Cuba, so don't try to change things."

That advice presently resonates for Viciedo, who is one of five White Sox regulars with at least 20 homers, which he accomplished in his first full big league season. Viciedo's ascent to the Majors was a gradual climb after he defected from Cuba on May 20, 2008, and then signed a four-year contract that Dec. 12. Parts of three of those seasons were spent at Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte.

Competing in the United States certainly wasn't the toughest challenge to conquer for Viciedo or Ramirez, who has become one of the game's best all-around shortstops and a team leader in his fifth season with the White Sox. When Minoso arrived before the Cuban Revolution began, he was still able to return.

The decisions by Ramirez and Viciedo to play Major League Baseball basically meant leaving their life in Cuba behind. It was during this current season when Ramirez was reunited with his parents, Armando and Edith, for the first time in five years, and Ramirez chose not to go into specific details as to how they made their way from Cuba.

"I'm definitely enjoying having my family here," Ramirez said. "But I still have other family members and friends that I grew up with over the years that I unfortunately cannot see. The biggest thing is for us knowing that we can't go back to our country. I would say that's an obstacle, because people here can go and see their family and we can't. So that's something that's big for us to have in your mind."

"Making the decision to come here was the hardest thing for me to do, because everything else is part of baseball," Viciedo said. "Fortunately for me I was able to come here with mom and dad, but I still have other family members that are not here with me. There's a sadness because there's a part of us that is missing."

They might not be able to return to Cuba, but Cuba remains a part of Ramirez and Viciedo. And it's Minoso who helped open these competitive doors, "showing what Cuban baseball is all about to the United States," as Ramirez said.

"To have a solid mind like he does and to have played almost four decades of baseball, that right there is incredible," Ramirez said of Minoso. "You can't negate where you came from. Being born in Cuba, when I die, I'm going to die a Cuban and you know I love being here in the United States and playing baseball. But at the end of the day I'm a Cuban at heart."

"This is a great opportunity we have been given to play baseball here," Viciedo said. "But that's my country and I still love my country."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.