CHICAGO (CBS) — Hispanic baseball players make up about a quarter of major league rosters.
As CBS 2 honors extraordinary people throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, Jackie Kostek introduces us to a vital behind-the-scenes member of the Chicago White Sox.READ MORE: Ald. Carrie Austin Thanks City Council, Mayor For Support After Her Collapse At December Meeting
Someone who wrote a fantasy contract to himself 25 years ago and turned it into reality.
“Mr. Billy Russo. We’re sending you this letter from the White Sox…”
Billy Russo was about nine years old when he got his first (pretend) contract with the South Side team.
Russo signed the fantasy contract, but it would be years before he would set foot in Guaranteed Rate Field. You see, Russo grew up a little south of the South Side – about 2,700 miles south, in Venezuela.
Watching the Sox on TV and dreaming of playing big league ball like fellow Venezuelan and former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. The only problem?
“I never was a superstar,” said Billy Russo.
He became a baseball beat writer instead, eventually pitching a plan to his editor: Spend a couple months in Chicago covering the Cubs and Sox and studying English.
“I am where I am because of my relationship with Ozzie. That opened a lot of doors for me, especially with the White Sox but also my relationship with the players,” added Russo.
The relationships he built in those two months paved the way for him to eventually make it to the big league himself as a kind of off-field utility player.READ MORE: Charges To Be Filed Soon In Connection With Shooting Death Of 8-Year-Old Melissa Ortega
Russo is the White Sox translator, color analyst for Spanish radio broadcasts and when COVID restrictions were tight last year, he suited up as bat boy.
“He’s so well-respected. He’s got a personality everybody really appreciates, there’s not anybody he can’t befriend and still be talented at your job. He’s one of those behind the scenes guys who deserves the attention,” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa.
Russo is so essential to the team’s Spanish-speaking players, outfielder Eloy Jimenez refers to him as Ricardo Hahn, a nod to Sox GM Rick Hahn.
“You are the GM of the Latinos (they say). I’m not. I’m just here to help the guys,” said Russo.
Even with all the communicating, there are things the players don’t know about him.
“I know he played baseball as a kid, yeah, but I didn’t know if he was good or not,” said Jimenez.
Good enough to sign his first (pretend) contract with the Sox before he turned 10. Something Russo said he’d forgotten about until a couple of years ago.
“My mom in Venezuela found this. She started crying of course when she read the letter. You made your dream come true, you need to save this,” said Russo.
So, what is Russo dreaming about now? Winning a World Series.MORE NEWS: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer To Retire
The Chicago White Sox start that quest for another World Series next week when the first round of the playoffs begins.