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A Life In Baseball

The Mets' Omar Minaya, the sport's first Hispanic general manager, has always had the game in his blood, first as a young playing prospect, then as a prescient scout and now as an executive responsible for an entire team
Michael Marsh
From the Print Edition:
Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007

The tension at Shea Stadium was palpable. It was the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and the capacity crowd was on its feet, tempting the baseball gods with rally caps in hopes of conjuring another Mets miracle. In the general manager's box on the press level, Omar Minaya watched with bated breath as Carlos Beltran dug in with the Mets trailing 3-1, the bases loaded and two strikes against him. In his office humidor, cigars were ready to be clipped, lit and enjoyed in a Champagne-soaked locker room celebration. Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright came to his set. He wheeled, dealed and delivered a knee-buckling curveball that Beltran took for called strike three. The season was over for the Mets and their dreams of a pennant and World Series appearance put on hold. Minaya's championship cigar would have to wait. The 2007 season was five short months away and there was work to be done.

It isn't easy to please baseball fans in New York. They have high expectations for winning, low tolerance for losing and short memories. They love you one minute and want to burn you in effigy the next. Like it or not, that's the way it is, whether you're a player, manager or general manager such as Omar Minaya.

"This is a pressure cooker job," says Minaya, puffing casually on an Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Robusto during a recent off day at Shea. "The truth of the matter is, the pressure is on you only as much as you allow it to be."

As a general manager, the pressure lies in building a baseball team that passionate New York fans are going to embrace as their own. It lies in building a team with talent and style, and it lies in building a team that is going to reach its ultimate goal: winning the World Series. So far Minaya is two out of three. The Mets have become an exciting and entertaining team under Minaya's watch, with stars like Beltran, Pedro Martinez, David Wright, John Maine and Jose Reyes giving fans what they want. It's only the World Series that has eluded Minaya and the Mets.

Even with the pressures to win, Minaya is down-to-earth, exuding extreme confidence and an attitude that makes you believe he would be successful in any profession, not just as a baseball executive. "You have to believe in yourself and in your ability," he says matter-of-factly. "You have to be prepared, ahead of the curve, and you have to anticipate what's going on around you. You have to realize that you're going to make mistakes, so you can't be afraid to make them. When you do make them, you admit them and move on.

To hear Minaya speak, one might get the impression that being a general manager isn't as hard as it's sometimes made out to be, or that any armchair analyst or fantasy baseball fanatic could handle the reins of a major league franchise. It isn't quite so simple and Minaya knows that. His secret, which isn't really a secret at all, is simple. "You have to have balance in your personal life," he says. "I have my priorities in place so that my family comes first. Because of that, I feel that everything else will fall in place."

Balance to Minaya means spending as much time as he can with his wife, Rachel, and his two sons, Teddy and Justin. It means listening to Cuban son music and Brazilian jazz, with a regular fix of Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan. It's watching basketball and boxing, playing dominoes and working out to stay fit.

It also means enjoying the finer things in life and appreciating the pleasures of a good meal, a quality bottle of wine and a handmade premium cigar. "Arturo Fuente is the main brand I like to smoke," he says, "especially a Don Carlos or a Hemingway. I really like La Aurora, too, and a small Dominican brand called Patria. It's mild, but nice." Minaya is also fond of Cuban cigars, but "there's just something about Dominican leaf" that keeps him coming back.

"I like the routine of smoking a cigar and the slow burn," he says. "I like the relaxation it brings." At his home in New Jersey, Minaya smokes on his poolside deck with his wife, who also enjoys cigars, and a bottle of wine. In Miami, where he often travels, he can be found at Aromas of Havana smoking over a game of dominoes, and when he's in his native Dominican Republic, "there's nothing better," he says, "than late at night under a palm tree, sitting in a rocking chair enjoying an ice-cold Presidente beer and a cigar."

It's no surprise that Minaya is passionate about cigars, or baseball, considering he hails from a country that produces some of the best of both. He was born in 1958 in the tobacco region of Cibao, in the city of Mao, in the hillside province of Valverde, not far from Santiago. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father was a laborer, who immigrated to New York City in 1965 to better support his family.

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