BY TONI GINNETTI
For the Sun-Times
Baseball players are always thinking about the playoffs.
But there is another thought in the back of Alexei Ramirez’s mind.
This fall will mark the end of an eight-year waiting period imposed by the Cuban government for players who want to visit their home.
“I know it will happen,’’ Ramirez said. “But I don’t know what to expect. I can’t say now what it will be like.’’
For Ramirez, who starred in the Cuban League and won gold in the 2004 Olympics, the eight-year wait was a price he was forced to pay.
But for Jose Abreu, who left Cuba to sign a six-year, $68 million deal with the Sox in October 2013, the wait might not be as long.
At least that’s the hope as the United States and Cuba seek to normalize relations after a 50-year rift.
“That’s my wish,’’ Abreu said through team translator Billy Russo. “I go to sleep every day and pray for that, and I wake up every morning and pray for that. Not just to be able to be with my kid again, but I want to help the people of Cuba because I know the situation there and I’d like to help them and all the people I could touch and help.’’
Abreu, 28, made “the toughest decision of my life’’ when he chose to leave Cuba.
Ramirez’s wife and children are with him, but Abreu left behind a son, now 5.
He lives with his mother but spends time with Abreu’s grandmother, as well.
“It was a family decision,’’ he said. “I’m talking with my heart in my hand right now because I really miss my kid and I hope to get the opportunity to be with him again.
“But I don’t have regrets about my decision because I knew it was a decision I had to make to provide my whole family a better future. I’m glad to be able to do it and I just keep working and continue to pray to be reunited with my kid and my family.’’
World affairs might be far-off talking points for most players, but the news of U.S.-Cuba diplomacy couldn’t be more personal for Abreu, Ramirez and their countrymen.
As he sat writing the names of family members on a pink bat and sketching “gracias Mama’’ on a pink jersey to send home, Abreu spoke of often talking to his son on the phone, even Sunday morning.
“I try to call him in the mornings because sometimes I wake up kind of sad, and when I talk to him, he always makes me feel better,’’ he said. “I really want the opportunity to be with him again, and I hope it can be sooner than later. I always think there’s a way, but I can’t control it. I just try to put things in God’s hands and wait to see what happens.
“But I’m very optimistic about the change in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S., and I think the Cuban people who are living here in the U.S. also have to be optimistic and happy because I think it will be something good for us, good for all our people in Cuba. I’m very confident and I pray every day because I want both countries to get a real agreement that helps everybody, especially the people in Cuba.’’