‘The Sox will always be part of our family identity’: For these Latino fans, White Sox pride is generational

One of Ramon Navarro’s most prized possessions is a White Sox Starter jacket, the one his grandpa, Reyes Pineda, used to wear all the time.

“The man was never not repping the team,” Navarro said of his grandfather. “There’s a photo of my First Communion, and there’s my grandpa in the church right in front of the big family picture with his nice satin White Sox starter jacket on. Over top of a shirt and a tie.

“There’s pictures of us en el rancho in Michoacan with some of his family, and it’s like 90 degrees outside. I still remember because it was hot and the man’s wearing that jacket,” he added.

His grandfather died last year and the family let Navarro keep the jacket. He dry cleaned it to preserve it. He plans to pass it down to his son someday, he said. “I see that jacket and immediately think of the memories I have of him growing up.”

As the White Sox move toward the playoffs, the team’s connections to its Latino fan base may come into sharper focus in the postseason spotlight. That’s reflected in everything from the food they sell at the ballpark to creating a space where Latino players can show off their cultural pride.

The team has also partnered with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Little Village Chamber of Commerce and work with a Latino-owned multicultural marketing company.

The partnerships and outreach have led to the creation of “Los White Sox” merchandise and the White Sox sugar skull designed by Toby Ramos, who works in-house with the Sox’s design team. The design has been used on posters, shirts, hats and for a bobblehead.

Navarro’s grandfather was introduced to the White Sox by Navarro’s aunt, who has worked for the team for almost 34 years. Guillermina Pineda, who married Navarro’s uncle, is the manager of ticket sales administration.

Navarro’s tia started offering the family free game tickets, creating a lasting family tradition.

He went to his first Sox game when he was 8 years old. His aunt gave him tickets to go with his uncle while she worked during the game. His aunt also gave him a Sox teddy bear to commemorate it.

Navarro’s grandfather moved from Mexico City to Chicago in 1978, settling in the Little Village neighborhood with his family. Navarro’s dad started a business in Chicago and Navarro remembers his parents were always working, “trying to make something for our family,” he said.

“That didn’t allow for too much space for fun,” Navarro said. “So, the refuge of fun that we found was in sports.”

To be a White Sox fan is to be part of a community, Navarro said.

“Being a Sox fan, you’re not just a Sox fan, you know you’re saying who you are, where you come from, what you represent,” Navarro said. “It’s the South Side through and through.”

The team has increasingly worked to connect with those communities, said Sheena Quinn, spokeswoman for the White Sox. Quinn has been working with the team since 2014 and does multicultural outreach.

“I think for us it’s about making everybody feel like this is their ballpark, like the White Sox ballpark is our fans’ ballpark,” Quinn said.

When the team had to get creative to connect with fans during a pandemic, it made a Los White Sox Loteria, a game similar to bingo that’s a staple in Mexican households. The team held a loteria game night with their fans over zoom last year.

“It’s really cool stuff,” Quinn said. “We’re trying to get bigger and better and bolder, each year with different ways to kind of represent our Latino fans.”

The Tribune talked to Latino White Sox fans who said they notice the team’s outreach and welcoming environment for its Latino fans. They connect with the team’s Latino players, and their pride deepens when they think of the team’s historically Latino roster, from Minnie Miñoso, MLB’s first Afro-Latino, to current players like José Abreu from Cuba, the team’s MVP, and Dominican star Eloy Jiménez.

But most of the fans we talked to fell in love with the Sox because they grew up watching parents and grandparents watching them play, and people in their majority Latino neighborhoods like Little Village wearing the team’s name.

“The Sox will never not be a part of our lives, and this goes across the board for my family; I know they would say the same thing,” Navarro said. “From my tias to my tios to my nephews and my cousins, you know, the Sox will always be part of our family identity.”

‘They embrace nuestra cultura’

Scarlett Ramirez and her husband traveled to a lot of away games this season knowing it would be different for the White Sox, she said.

“One of the things that he and I both realized is that when we go to different baseball stadiums, the people don’t look like us, ever,” she said.

They’ve been to games in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Atlanta; but watching a game at Guaranteed Rate Field feels different, she said.

“When you go to a White Sox game, it is truly like an integrated experience,” Ramirez said. “And the beautiful thing about it is that there’s so many Latinos when you go.”

Ramirez said she appreciates hearing her first language in player interviews, and says it shows that the team allows players to embrace their identity.

Ramirez’s dad, from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, settled in Little Village in the 1970s. Ramirez was born in Little Village, where she says she remembers White Sox colors and the logo were all around her. Between being surrounded by it in her community and seeing her dad watch the Sox, she became a White Sox fan at a young age.

She remembers going to her first game when she was 8 years old, her dad explaining to her how the game works.

“It was a girl trying to do something with her dad, and I just remember the smile on his face,” Ramirez said. “For me, I think that was one of the big key things — that I didn’t see my dad smile a lot because it’s just one of those things like Hispanic men don’t really emote.”

Ramirez said the team shows they care about their Latino fans from the food they sell at the stadium to the music they play at every game, not just on Latino Heritage month.

“It’s not just the themes,” she said. “It’s how they embrace nuestra cultura.”

‘Those were real good memories’

Ulises Gasca’s earliest memories of baseball are of his dad watching the White Sox game on the Spanish TV channel. He was about 8 or 9 years old when he started to grasp the sport and what being a fan of a team meant.

His dad would get game tickets from work and take Gasca and his younger brother on weekends, he said.

“He just would take us to games all the time on Fridays, Saturdays,” Gasca said. “He’d buy us a slice of pizza and a hot dog, and a souvenir bat, then we’d watch the fireworks.”

Now, he’s trying to pass on the love for the White Sox to his own kids, who are 5 and 7 years old.

“Those were real good memories as a kid, my dad taking us to games, buying the souvenirs and then getting to sit down with him on the couch and watching the games and trying to get a feel for the game, understand what it was about,” Gasca said. “Now that I have my kids, I want to relive those memories.”

For Gasca, reliving those memories is not just about watching games as a family — though they do that so often the kids ask if there’s a game when they get home from school.

Gasca said it’s also important to get them both outside to play catch. He plans to sign up his daughter Madyline, 7, and son Ulyses, 5, for softball and T-ball, he said.

Gasca has also become a hat collector, and has about 200 White Sox hats to choose from when he’s not going to work, he said.

While he may have taken for granted the bond he formed with his dad around baseball when he was a boy, he now appreciates those memories and is excited to pass down the love of baseball and excitement of watching White Sox games.

‘I was born a Sox fan’

For Gabriel Silva’s family, being a White Sox fan is “a religion.”

“I was born a Sox fan,” he said. “My grandpa was there. He gave me a gift. He bought a Sox hat and a Sox shirt for me when I was a baby.”

He went to his first White Sox game when he was about 8 months old, he said.

His mom’s side of the family, uncles and cousins are also die hard White Sox fans.

When he was younger, he would go to games with his grandfather, who died in 2009. They would park at Morrie O’Malley’s Hot Dogs, where his grandpa was friends with the owner, and grab a bite before the game, he said.

His grandfather was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and moved from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Chicago in the 1970s, when his mom was about 5 years old, he said.

Silva grew up in Marquette Park, on Chicago’s Southwest Side, where he said people sometimes told him it was weird that he liked baseball and American football instead of more traditionally Mexican sports like soccer.

But he’s visited Mexico and met White Sox fans there, he said.

A season ticket holder, he goes to games often by himself now, but he’s made friends at the stadium, he said. The ballpark is his happy place.

“Anytime I’m in the stadium I feel like I’m home again,” Silva said. “I feel like I’m visiting my grandpa.”

‘They love playing this game’

Bonnie Runimas has been around baseball her entire life.

When Runimas was a little girl, her dad would take her to games with him while her mom worked night shifts, she said.

Her dad worked for General Motors, inspecting locomotives, and his work friends were all Sox fans. They would hang out at the old Comiskey Park or at a bar, and Runimas would tag along, watching the game.

She also played South Cicero Little League Baseball, where she would sometimes see Ozzie Guillen’s kids playing.

When she went to the Illinois Institute of Technology, Runimas got a job with Standard Parking, which operates several stadium and event center parking lots.

After collecting parking payments and auditing the parking tickets, she would get picked up and go to the safe at the ballpark to drop off the money then get employee concessions at the parking office underneath home plate, she said.

“And then I could walk up the ramp and catch a game,” Runimas said. “Usually I’d make it up by the sixth, or fifth inning, so I could watch the rest of the game. So I went to a lot of Sox games in the ‘90s.”

Runimas now has season tickets, and has been able to share her love for the White Sox with her two kids. Her daughter has become a big Sox fan, she said.

She said Latinos in Chicago are all connected, and even though they may not all know one another when they go to the stadium, it’s a tightknit community between fans and from fans to players who immigrated to the U.S. to play baseball.

Runimas’ father moved to the Chicago area from Argentina in his 30s after trying to immigrate for many years, she said. That struggle is one Latino immigrant fans share with Latino immigrant players.

“They love playing this game; we love watching them play,” Runimas said. “And the opportunities I’ve been afforded thanks to my parents, I’m really appreciative. And like I said, we’re, we’re sort of like in parallel universes watching them live out their dreams as well.”

‘It’s about being loyal to your team’

Juan Jara and his nephews stood around a turquoise Yeti cooler on a Thursday afternoon mid-September, drinking Carta Blanca beer as they prepared for another White Sox game.

The youngest of 10 siblings, Jara remembers going to games with his dad since he was a little boy at the old Comiskey Park on 35th Street and Shields Avenue.

His dad, Manuel Jara, moved to Chicago from Zacatecas, Mexico, in the 1960s, Jara said. He was a die-hard White Sox fan and instilled his love of baseball and his love for the Sox in his children and now their children.

Jara takes his 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son to games now, and his nephews remember going to Sox games when they were little boys, they said.

When his dad died in 2006, Jara got a tattoo on his arm of the Sox logo revealed under what looks like torn skin. The date of his father’s death, 2-5-06, is right below it.

His children are already big Sox fans, like he and his wife are. The family takes a road trip to at least one away game each season. They’ve been to Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis. This season, they flew to Houston for a game, Jara said. It’s something they look forward to every year, the men said.

When they can’t make the game, or on most away games, the family still comes together to watch and support their team. They make carne asada, drink beer and have a family party at one of the uncles’ homes, or at Jara’s mother’s house.

“It’s about being loyal to your team,” Jara said. “We know that they’re not going to win every single game. But it’s just being there for them.”