Alexei surprised by gold medal, Contreras
2004 Olympic hardware replaced with help of White Sox
CHICAGO -- Alexei Ramirez was getting ready for pregame stretch Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field, just as the White Sox shortstop has done 31 other times at home this season.
It was a moment not out of the ordinary for Ramirez, even when he saw a large group of White Sox front-office staff and media members walking toward him down the left-field line. Then, as White Sox manager Robin Ventura gathered his team together, Ramirez saw Jose Contreras move into the picture.
"I actually spoke with Contreras this morning," said Ramirez, through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Jackson Miranda. "He said he was in Los Angeles."
Contreras, who is on the disabled list with the Phillies and getting ready for Tommy John surgery and a procedure to repair his flexor tendon next week, made a special trip to Chicago to be part of a moment Ramirez will never forget.
Ventura told the team the story of Ramirez's Olympic gold medal -- won for his native Cuba in the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece -- which disappeared afterward. Ramirez and the White Sox have been on a quest to find him a replacement.
As he completed the tale, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Contreras stepped up and presented Ramirez with a box featuring his name. The cover of the box was lifted and inside was the replacement gold medal.
"To see him walking out with the medal really left me speechless," said Ramirez. "I got really choked up, because I felt like I was in Athens getting that medal all over again."
"You could tell by his immediate reaction how much it meant to him," Reinsdorf said. "It was great. I know this is something that was really on his mind. He really was down over this thing having been stolen or lost or whatever happened to it.
"If he were on another team, I think they would have tried to do the same thing. When you know that something is really important to one of your players and he's a good guy, you want to help him. You want to do something for him."
In return, Ramirez did something for Reinsdorf. Before meeting with the media, Ramirez ducked back into the clubhouse and came back with a box of cigars for his boss. Miranda translated for Ramirez and told the White Sox chairman how much his help meant to the White Sox shortstop.
Ramirez knew they were working on getting him a replacement, but he had been told the medal might not make it to Chicago until July. So when he glanced at this medal -- a representation of his history, of his life -- Ramirez put his hand to his face and tears began to fall before he embraced Contreras.
"This is a really special moment for Alexei and I can tell by the way he hugged me after we gave him the medal," Contreras said, through translator and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. "The dream of any athlete is to be an Olympian. After his was lost -- him being without his gold medal -- this is a really special moment. It reminds him of one of the most important moments of his athletic life."
The tale of the disappearing gold medal was told to MLB.com by Ramirez back in Spring Training. In the travels of his wife, Mildred, from the Dominican Republic to Miami to Chicago prior to the 2008 season, the gold medal disappeared out of a case featuring 15 medals won by Ramirez during competitive days in his homeland of Cuba.
He approached the White Sox last summer about the dilemma and received immediate help from Reinsdorf, Hernandez and vice president of communications Scott Reifert, among others. With Ramirez being from Cuba, the Cuban National Olympic Committee had to be petitioned for this replacement.
Taking into consideration Ramirez's particular relationship to Cuba, the White Sox contacted the International Olympic Committee in London directly this past March. They requested a report including when the medal was lost, the circumstances under which it was lost, Ramirez's information as an Olympian, where he lives now and where he lost it.
That report was reviewed and approved by the IOC, and the White Sox then heard from the International Olympic Museum in Switzerland, where gold medals from past Games are held. They requested specific paperwork to be filled out from the White Sox, which was returned in 48 hours. Reinsdorf paid the cost for the new medal to be made and transported, and it was on its way to Chicago.
An original plan was in place to give Ramirez the medal before the first Cubs game at U.S. Cellular on June 18, since Contreras had an off-day. But with Contreras' impending surgery, the date was moved up for Ramirez's emotional reunion.
Ventura, a baseball gold medal winner himself for the United States during the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Korea, could relate to Ramirez's pain and took great pleasure in celebrating his joy.
"We all know how much he's tried to get it back, what it's meant to him," Ventura said. "It's one of those you don't expect to happen. I can't believe they were actually able to do it."
"Really, I wasn't expecting this," said a smiling Ramirez.