Every time I have the opportunity to see all the Cuban players for the White Sox, it is a proud feeling for me. I know they are my countrymen. They are the new wave of Cuban superstars in the United States.Last December, I joined the White Sox as a club
Every time I have the opportunity to see all the Cuban players for the White Sox, it is a proud feeling for me. I know they are my countrymen. They are the new wave of Cuban superstars in the United States.
Last December, I joined the White Sox as a club ambassador and to assist in working with the Cuban players on the team. During Spring Training, I got to spend time with Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert.
When I was introduced to Robert and he stood up, I said, "Wow, that's a big human being." I asked him, "Did you eat all the food in Cuba?"
Moncada is another big, strong human being. Both of them have all the talent in the world to be superstars.
The White Sox have a terrific history with Cuban players, dating back to Minnie Minoso. Minnie was a great example for us. He always was a man with a purpose, on and off the field. He treated everyone the same way -- with respect. That's something I am trying to tell the kids here. Just be the best you can be every day. Follow the lead set by Minnie.
I was fortunate to have Orlando Hernandez when I first came to the United States. "El Duque" was like a god in Cuba. When I signed with the Yankees in 2003, he was with the Expos. But he would call me, and try to take care of me. He always was giving me advice, and not just about baseball.
Two years later, we were together with the White Sox. I remember the first day of Spring Training. He was doing an interview and he said the White Sox were going to win the World Series. I was listening and said to him, "Are you crazy?"
"Don't you want to be a world champion?" he said.
"Yes," I said, "But this is Day 1 of Spring Training."
He said, "It doesn't matter. We have the talent here to become a world-champion team."
When we were celebrating after we won Game 4 [of the 2005 World Series] in Houston, he hugged me.
"I told you we were going to do this," he said. It was a special moment.
Orlando was big in helping me make the adjustment. That's why it is very important for Moncada and Robert to have fellow countrymen like Abreu with the Sox. It is important to have someone from your culture to guide you in your first days in the United States.
One of the things I always tell them is don't make the same mistakes I did when I first came here. I wasn't engaged with the language. I say, "Try to learn the language. Try to interact with American players."
At this moment, they are doing great in that regard. They are open to interacting with American players; they are open to learn about this society and culture. When they can handle that, the rest will be easier for them.
I can't play right now, but seeing them play, it feels like I also am playing. It's like a continuation of my career. That's how people in Cuba feel about us here. People in Cuba always ask me about the Cuban players playing here, and I tell them. They also feel like they are living those experiences through these guys.
I know baseball is a business here, but for us in Cuba, it is life. It's passion. It's all the things you can imagine. If you take away baseball, there would be a problem.
That's one of the reasons I'm always telling these young players to be aware of the risks that are around this sport. They have to behave all the time. We as Cubans, we feel everything they do, on and off field. If you get in trouble, maybe get a DUI, we feel that as a Cuban. We feel that pain, that frustration. We don't want that to happen.
That's why I tell them to take care of themselves, do good things, don't cause problems. You're representing our people. You're representing our country.
As told to Ed Sherman
Jose Contreras is a club ambassador for the Chicago White Sox. He spent six of his 11 big league seasons as a pitcher with the White Sox.