While most White Sox fans are familiar with the challenges young Sox players such as Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Reynaldo Lopez face in regards to their development on the field, many are unaware of what is required of young players from Latin countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“For me the hard part was the language. To order food. To communicate with teammates. To communicate with coaches”, said White Sox infielder Yolmer Sanchez at Sox Fest on Sunday. That sentiment was echoed by the other players on the panel that spoke Sunday at Sox Fest about life in the United States for players coming from different countries.
Learning the culture and language of a new country can be a daunting task for anybody, let alone players that come over to the United States at 16 and 17 years old. Luckily, many teams have more support systems in place now then they did in the past. “Latino players coming over the 40’s 50’s and 60’s had more problems. Way more problems. There were not too many Latinos playing in the major leagues. So they had to depend on one person,” said Hector Molina, the voice of White Sox broadcasts in Spanish. “This is not the situation anymore. This situation is completely different because teams provide translators, you have friends.”
The White Sox are one of those teams that has put an emphasis on making young Latin players feel at home. Both pitching coach Don Cooper and Manager Rick Renteria speak Spanish, and the presence of senior players from all over the world make Latin players feel at home. The White Sox emphasis on Latin players goes all the way back to Minnie Minoso, and has produced many heroes for the White Sox in the past, including Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Guillen, Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras. Not to mention more recent players like Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu.
Still, even with an excellent support system in place for the new wave of Latino White Sox players, learning the new customs and language of a country you have never been too before can be daunting.
“You know nothing,” said Yolmer Sanchez. Sanchez, the most senior of the four active players on the panel was very open about his struggles adjusting to a new country. Sanchez also very clearly embraces his role as one of the role models in the locker room for these young players coming over.
The bond these players share is very evident in the way they interact with each other on stage. Sanchez quickly claimed his title as best “Fifa” player on the team, and made sure the young guys know not to get too ahead of themselves just yet. One fan asked Eloy Jimenez about his viral home run that he hit in batting practice, Sanchez quickly interjected that it was on a little league field, to which Jimenez responded, “At least I can hit it.”
Despite the struggles that Sanchez still has at times with his grasp on the English language, he was easily the most outgoing player at this weekend’s Sox Fest, spending much of his time in-between panels and autograph sessions roaming around the Hilton Towers and taking pictures, signing autographs, and yucking it up with the fans.
All the players on the panel spoke through an interpreter at times, but all spoke English at times for some of the easier questions. It is very evident that these players are working hard to adjust to the new country and adopt the culture.
So why leave the only place you have ever known and move to a totally new country?
“Because my dream was to play in the majors and to play baseball” said White Sox second-baseman Yoan Moncada. “It wasn’t easy, but that was also my dream and I have to work for it.”
Moncada said he feels at peace with his decision and knows his family back home is proud of him and the progress he has made in his career.
Eloy Jimenez discussed in English that for children in the states, growing up and playing baseball is easy. They can watch games on TV everyday and have many resources at their disposal for their development that most players in Latin countries do not.
The players on the panel discussed who some of their role models growing up were. Yolmer Sanchez answered Omar Vizquel, and Yoan Moncada said Robinson Cano (A player he frequently draws comparisons too). They said watching those players when they had the chance, gave them the inspiration to continue and move forward despite the struggles and barriers they faced.
While it’s never easy for these players to take on such a life changing move, they all expressed joy that they were in Chicago playing for the White Sox. Despite the cold, which Reynaldo Lopez said he had difficulty adjusting to, and the lack of genuine food from their home countries was a gripe that Yoan Moncada had. All of the players on the panel expressed one goal, winning multiple championships in a White Sox uniform.