Months and months of hard work paid off Friday when the White Sox were able to surprise short stop Alexei Ramirez with a replacement of the Olympic gold medal he'd won in the 2004 Games in Athens.
He doesn't know whether it was lost or stolen, but Ramirez said he's looked for the medal -- his most prized possession -- for years.
"It meant so much to Alexei," said Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. "It was devastating to him that this medal had disappeared or he lost it or it was stolen. I don't know what it was. It meant so much to him and he cared so much about it that we had to try."
The medal disappeared when Ramirez's wife was moving to Chicago from the Dominican Republic, and hasn't been seen since. It was the only medal in a box of about 15 others that didn't make the trip.
"It’s special," White Sox Manager Robin Ventura said Friday. "I think it’s one of those things that, not too many people win gold medals and to lose it is heartbreaking."
Team officials spent almost a year trying to replace it, in the end dealing with three separate Olympic Committees. The United States Olympic Committee couldn’t help since he won the medal with the Cuban Olympic team in 2004. And since he defected from Cuba, the Cuban Olympic Committee was unable to help as well.
The International Olympic Committee in Switzerland was ultimately able to help, but not without a lot of convincing.
Ramirez had no idea what the team was up to until he was presented with the replacement during a special ceremony before batting practice at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday.
Former Sox player and Ramirez's best friend, Jose Contreras, did the honors.
"This is a really special moment for Alexei and I can tell from the way he hugged me after we gave him the medal," said Contreras.
It goes without saying, Ramirez was floored.
"For as long as I live I am in debt to Jerry.. just the guidance he's given me, the love, the compassion, he's really special and my family in indebted to him so it's just something that just feels really special. I'm very thankful to be involved with him."
Ramirez himself had been trying to find the original medal for some time, frequently doing searches on eBay and even publicly asking for a presumed thief to return it no questions asked.