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Houston Chronicle

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Speculation On Outfielder Best Served Hot At Puerto Rican Restaurant


8 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 Houston Chronicle. All rights reserved.

It's 11 a.m. and the Puerto Rican restaurant with the unlikely name of Tex Chick is locked and dark.

In the kitchen, Carmen Gonzalez sweeps the floor and gathers her pots and pans. She doesn't wave to passers-by, she doesn't turn on the lights, she doesn't even look up. She has to get things started before all 14 seats in the tiny restaurant are full with folks clamoring for lunch and baseball news.

Carmen is 68 and her husband, Teo, is 70. He comes zooming down Fairview in his pickup truck, swings into his parking space, which looks like a towaway zone, and bustles into his Montrose restaurant. Door unlocked. Lights on. Groceries in the kitchen. Jokes flow.

"We've been here 21 years - we're the oldest Puerto Rican restaurant in town," he says proudly. "We're also the best. And the only one."

He continues to make jokes, though he knows his heart might be broken shortly. By 11 p.m. today, Puerto Rican baseball star Carlos Beltran will accept the Astros' contract offer, believed to be for seven years and $105 million, or move to plusher pastures.

One shy customer

At the Tex Chick, Beltran is a superstar. His name is spoken reverently. To customers nostalgic for their homeland, the 27-year- old outfielder represents the past and the future.

Teo begins to cook alongside Carmen. After almost 50 years of marriage - their landmark anniversary is in April - they don't have to talk. A glance tells them what the other is doing, how and why.

Beltran's been to the restaurant three times, Teo reports. He likes fried pork. And his wife has come more often than that. Teo gestures toward a drawing on the wall of a young woman with black hair and a flower behind her ear.

"There," he says. "She looks like that."

Beltran is shy, Teo said. "If you don't recognize him, you don't know he's Beltran."

Teo has started chopping plantains fast, faster, fastest. Fourteen of his best friends have arrived and others are waiting for a seat. Good smells, garlic and onions blending with chicken, pork and plantains, waft through the restaurant.

Customers greet their hosts and grab their drinks. A few wander behind the counter separating the tables from the kitchen. Strangers sit with strangers - a necessity and a pleasure.

Myra Hypolite takes her seat on a stool in the corner. She's a Puerto Rican native, a code enforcement inspector for the Houston Police Department, a Tex Chick devotee, and, of course, a Beltran fan.

"Beltran is going to stay in Houston, my father says, then again, he has Alzheimer's," Hypolite says ruefully.

Life will go on

Bottom line, she says, Beltran must look out for his own best interests.

"It's not greedy," says Francisco Ostolaza, who works for an oil pipeline company. "Beltran's so big he's practically a corporation. And after a while, a player might lose a little control to his agent."

Ostolaza is from Puerto Rico.

"I'm just happy to hear other Puerto Rican names besides Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin," he said. "You'd think those two founded Puerto Rico."

Dr. Hector Pierantoni, a neonatologist at Christus St. Joseph Hospital, thanks Beltran for renewing his love of baseball as he pays at the counter.

He says Beltran didn't just make Puerto Ricans like Pierantoni proud, he inspired and thrilled all Latinos.

"I'd love to think he'd stay in Houston, but probably he'll go to New York," Pierantoni says. "There's more money there. It's a bigger town with more resources and more fans. That's the reality."

Customers stack dishes and bring them into the kitchen. Just a few more hours before the celebrating, or the mourning, begins. Tex Chick is closed Sunday, but the drama will resume Monday.

Teo and Carmen don't think of retiring, he says. The restaurant is their life.

Carmen raises an eyebrow.

"We're only two people," she says. "This is a lot of work."

"Thank goodness," Teo says, "everybody helps."

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