Guillen becomes U.S. citizen

White Sox manager becomes U.S. citizen

CHICAGO -- Birthday No. 42 certainly will be one to remember for Ozzie Guillen.

Actually, anything the White Sox manager has done this past year has been not only memorable but also chronicled for posterity every step of the way.

Guillen led the White Sox to their first World Series title since 1917 and thousands of media members were in attendance to describe the unforgettable atmosphere. Guillen brought the World Series trophy to his homeland of Venezuela, and seemingly everyone in the country jammed the streets to see their national hero.

For the most part, though, those accomplishments were tied to on-field baseball success. On Friday, an extremely personal moment was celebrated by Guillen and his family.

With Judge Marvin Aspen presiding on the third floor of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Chicago District Office, Ozzie, his wife, Ibis, and middle son Oney became U.S. citizens. Aspen administered the Oath of Allegiance, and when the Guillen family answered with a simple but direct, "I do," as Guillen said, he became the proud owner of two passports.

A few tears rolled down Guillen's face during the emotional moment.

"It's not an easy step to do," said Guillen, speaking to about 50 media members in attendance, not to mention a roomful of office workers who took time off to watch their conquering baseball hero become a U.S. citizen. "After you do this, you feel more than proud to make this step."

"That was unusual," added Ibis Guillen of her husband's show of emotion during the ceremony. "He's the kind of person who is always happy and always knows what he wants."

Ozzie Jr., Guillen's eldest son, already was a U.S. citizen by virtue of his birth in Las Vegas, when Guillen was a player in the San Diego Padres' system. But Oney and Ozney were both born during the offseason, so they were nationals of Venezuela, like their parents. Ozney can become a U.S. citizen when he turns 18 or can be claimed by his parents as a citizen.

The Guillens' move toward citizenship began six months ago and culminated Friday morning, with all three passing the oral and written parts of the examination. Each person is asked 10 questions and must answer six correctly to be successful. Guillen answered the first six right and didn't need the final four.

In his own engaging and unique style, Guillen quipped that one of the questions on the exam was to name the mayor of Chicago. Guillen's response was "Ozzie Guillen." Even Mayor Richard Daley would have a tough time marking that particular answer as incorrect.

Becoming a U.S. citizen was no laughing matter for Guillen, though. He has been part of the United States for the past 26 years and part of the Chicago landscape for 15, but he didn't have the paperwork. His respect for the United States was always evident in more than just his words, as one of Guillen's few team rules was to be in front of the dugout and on time for the national anthem before every game.

Now Guillen will be listening to the anthem as a citizen of the country.

"This is a country that gives you so many opportunities to be what you want to be," Guillen said. "There are so many reasons you want to become a citizen, but if I explained them all, one by one, we would be here all day."

Each member of the Guillen family was presented with a framed certificate marking their new citizenship. Ozzie also was given a symbolic Statue of Liberty by Jerry Heinauer, acting district director, Chicago District, for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Guillen quickly joked that he never had a chance to visit the Statue, despite his numerous trips to New York.

"I was always too focused on baseball," Guillen added with a smile.

White Sox vice president of communications Scott Reifert graciously presented the manager with a combination birthday/citizenship gift from the organization, as Guillen was handed the American flag that had flown at U.S. Cellular Field since the All-Star Break. There also was cake for the birthday part of the celebration.

It seemed only fitting that Aspen, a U.S. district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois, apparently was a big Guillen fan, if not a White Sox fan in general. The judge spoke of his first meeting with Guillen, when he was a rookie with the White Sox in 1985, and even held up a signed picture of Guillen and Aspen's son from the 1986 season, when his son briefly served as a White Sox batboy.

Aspen also told how his parents went through the same citizenship ceremony years ago, a ceremony that made it possible for him to preside over Guillen's citizenship on Friday.

"I can't think of any person I have had the privilege of making an American citizen whom I have observed so closely for so many years before he became a citizen," Aspen said of Guillen. "Most of us have observed how you have conducted your life professionally and personally.

"It's really wonderful to preside over this ceremony, knowing you fit so well into the great American dream," he added.

Oney admitted that his dad was a little nervous before Friday's citizenship test and added that his family stayed up until 1 a.m. the night before studying for the exam and celebrating his father's birthday. He mentioned how the White Sox trip to the White House, tentatively scheduled for the second week of February, will be a little more special with Guillen now having his citizenship.

This particular move might not sit very well with Hugo Chavez or the many citizens of Venezuela who worship Guillen. In fact, Guillen said his e-mail will be full Saturday morning and most of the commentary won't be positive.

But in true Guillen style, he expressed a lack of concern for what other people think about his decisions. Anyone who knows anything about Guillen and his family understands their passion for both the United States and Venezuela.

Anyone around Guillen for the past couple of years also understands that his family comes first, before baseball or country.

Friday's special moment will play out during Spring Training, though. To prepare for the test, Guillen and his family were given flash cards with 100 potential questions. They range from "What color stripes are on the flag?" to "What holiday was celebrated for the first time by American colonists?"

Guillen intends to test his players with a new question every day in Tucson.

"Some people got mad at me; I'm not sure if they were really mad, but they said I was so arrogant when talking about the White Sox winning the World Series not being my dream," Guillen said. "Winning the World Series was not my dream. It was my goal. I get paid for that.

"This was my dream. But the only difference between Ozzie now and two hours ago is that I have another passport and I belong to the country I should have belonged to before."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.