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January 21, 2005
Even if the New York Mets are, in fact, appealing to their Hispanic fan base, dont breathe a word of it to GM Omar Minaya or his special assistant, Tony Bernazard. To them, the Mets are just hiring the best people they can find. After all, Latin players are a staple of major league baseball and, while there are few Hispanics in front-office jobs, the numbers are growing.
However, what the Mets are cooking up so far this January is a team thats sure to send a big shout-out to its Hispanic fan base, a huge, often overlooked support group at Shea Stadium.
"Were trying to get a winning team together. My job is to recommend the best people and if those people are Latino, so be it," said Bernazard, in reference to Minayas off-season hiring of Manny Acta, Sandy Alomar Sr. and the teams acquisition of mega-stars Carlos Beltran, of Manati, and Dominican Pedro Martinez.
"You want the best talent for the job at hand," said Minaya in reference to his front-office as well as team hires. "I didnt look at resumes to see whether this or that person was Latino. In the case of Carlos and Pedro [Martinez] I think we went after the best two players in the market, they just happened to be Latino. Like in any other business, diversity is good business. The fan base in New York is very diverse. But the No. 1 thing is ability. We just hired the best people for the job."
Minaya is quick to admit that one of his best hires so far has been Bernazard. The Caguas native, whose major league career as an infielder spanned 10 seasons and six teams, left the post hed held for the past 12 years at the Players Association to help his longtime friend, Minaya.
"I told him, Ive been giving you advice for free all these years. Its about time you pay me for it," said Bernazard.
Minaya, a Dominican who grew up in New York, became the first Hispanic GM back in 2002 when he was hired to run the ailing Montreal Expos. Bernazard, who like Minaya has charisma as well as negotiating skills, is a likely candidate to be the second.
"When I was a player, I was always thinking beyond the game," said Bernazard, who was instrumental in convincing the Expos players to split their 2003 and 2004 seasons with San Juan. "I always believed I could do all kinds of things. I didnt put any limits on myself. When Omar asked me to help him turn the Mets into a winning organization, I knew I could help. I know baseball and I have more knowledge that just the Players Association. It was difficult to decide I cleared it with the players first. But they all told me to go for it."
The former Montreal Expo traded stability and respectability with the players union for unknown factors, especially on a team that went 71-91 last year and hasn't had a winning season in three years.
"I had a stable job, the kind you keep for life. The Mets are a challenge, but they're a good challenge," said Bernazard, a key front-office player in the Beltran signing and in the current negotiations with free agent first baseman Carlos Delgado. "Some challenges are not worth taking the risk, but when Omar asked me, I knew it was something we could do. The Mets have been struggling and theyre not an organization that should be struggling, especially in that big market and with their resources as such."
Mayaguez versus Carolina in WL final
While major league teams get ready for their upcoming season, Puerto Ricos winter league is at the wire. Mako Oliveras Mayaguez Indios are battling it out versus Ramon Aviles Carolina Gigantes for the league title and the right to represent the island at the Caribbean Series during the first week of February in Mazatlan, Mexico.
The Gigantes are playing in their first WL final in their short franchise history (they moved from San Juan in the mid-90s. Although this is his first trip to a WL finals with Carolina, Aviles and Oliveras have faced off in a WL finals once before, according to league historian Jorge Colon Delgado. The two met in the 1990 final when Aviles managed the Caguas Criollos while Oliveras skippered the Senadores of San Juan. Oliveras got the upper hand that time around with a 5-3 win, which was the second of Oliveras five WL titles as manager. Aviles, however, does have a Caribbean Series title to his credit as he substituted Caguas manager Tim Foli in the 1987 Carib Series, and led the Criollos to the title.
Oliveras, meanwhile, is looking to set some of his own personal history. Hes already become the first WL manager to win a final series game with three different teams (Oliveras coached San Juan and Santurce to titles). Hes also staring down the record for manager with WL titles that span three decades (80s, 90s and 00s). Five other WL managers have won WL titles with two teams, including Oliveras. They were:
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.