2005-12-07 / Features

In Omar We Trust!

Met GM Minaya Keeps Things Hot This Winter
By Aris Sakellaridis

The New York Mets’ acquisitions of first baseman Carlos Delgado and reliever Billy Wagner filled two huge holes for the team. The Mets still have a couple of slots to fill, but in Omar we should trust!

Omar Minaya, the Mets’ general manager, has been working practically every day since September 30, 2004, the day he rejoined the Mets as Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations and General Manager. While he was in his birthplace of Santo Domingo for the Thanksgiving holidays, he held a press conference call to give updates on the Mets’ off-season plans.

After flying back home on the Sunday night after the holiday, a freshly tanned Minaya made his way into Shea Stadium’s Diamond Club the following Monday afternoon to introduce Delgado to the press. “I told you I’d take care of you. Did I take care of you?” he beamed to Manager Willie Randolph, who also attended Delgado’s introduction.

As Delgado was being interviewed by numerous members of the press and other media, Minaya was seen in the banquet area, which is regarded as tops among all New York sports teams, pacing back and forth with his cell phone glued to his ear. The man moved like the Energizer Bunny. He wasn’t done yet.

That same night the Mets announced the signing of free agent Wagner, who immediately solidifies the closer role in the bullpen. There are more gifts coming for Mets fans, and it’s not even Christmas yet. The annual winter meetings where general managers hobnob and exchange players are taking place this week in Dallas. Expect Santa Minaya to come down the chimney. The last GM to bring this much excitement to Shea was Frank Cashen, who held that title from 1980 to 1991. He was the true architect of the 1986 championship team, the Mets’ last one.

The Dominican-born, Queens-bred Minaya was a student athlete at Newtown H.S. in Elmhurst, where he earned All-American honors as a catcher playing for baseball coach Warren Albert. Minaya’s high school years are still talked about by fathers of current high-schoolers. After being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 14th round as an outfielder, he ended his professional playing career in 1984 overseas in Italy.

Minaya was back in Queens where he landed a job as a cologne sprayer in Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan. It didn’t take long for him to get back into baseball, but in another capacity. In 1985 the Texas Rangers added Minaya to their scouting department, where he hustled through all types of responsibilities. From 1985 to1987 he coached and managed the rookie level Gulf Coast Rangers. He was part of the process that got Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez signed to Rangers’ contracts (both have combined to hit over 1,000 home runs in their careers). After being named the Rangers’ Latin American scouting coordinator, Minaya was promoted to Director of Professional and International Scouting. The Mets snatched him in 1997, naming him assistant general manager and eventually Senior Assistant GM. Despite his extensive responsibilities, he still found time to attend a ceremony in his honor, retiring his Newtown H.S. uniform number 21. The event took place on Newtown’s home field, across the street from the Queens Center Mall on Queens Boulevard, before a PSAL game.

In 2002, Minaya made history by becoming the first foreign-born high level official in Major League Baseball when he was appointed vice president and general manager of the then Montreal Expos, currently the Washington Nationals. He started off with six employees and three weeks to rebuild. At the end of the season he led the team to its first winning record since 1996. When he took the job, no computer systems or other necessary management systems were in place.

The Mets came calling again in 2004 and put Minaya in charge of reshaping their club. Owner Fred Wilpon was tired of fielding a sub-.500 team, and gave Minaya a green light. Minaya wasted no time, immediately signing free-agents Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, and putting the “New” Mets label on its brand. The moves led to the Mets’ first winning season since 2001.

Minaya still finds time to spend with his wife, Rachel, and be a good and attentive father to Justin, age six, and Teddy, who recently had birthday party number 12 on November 24. Happy belated birthday, Teddy!

Expect more from “Team Omar”, which includes John Ricco and Tony Bernazard, his assistants, Gary LaRocque, who’s down on the farm, and veterans Sandy Johnson and Al Goldis, another Queens product, who assist in the building of this New Mets franchise.

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