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Minaya Puts A New Face On Baseball In New York

• Latin America: Although Minaya bristles at suggestions he has targeted Hispanic players, the fact remains his acquisitions this winter include not only Beltran (Puerto Rico) and Martinez (Dominican Republic), but also Miguel Cairo (Venezuela), Andres Galarraga (Venezuela) and Felix Heredia (Dominican Republic).

Minaya "is going to be creating some serious branding" in Latin America, said Fernando Cuza, Martinez's agent. "In the Dominican Republic, the country shuts down every fifth day," when Martinez pitches. "When Pedro was in Boston, everybody in the Dominican Republic was a Red Sox fan. Now, they will be Mets fans.

Omar Minaya, left, signed Pedro Martinez to a four-year, $53 million deal. "We can make a change," Martinez said. (Walter Astrada -- AP)

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"He's done the same thing in Puerto Rico, with Beltran. And let's not forget [first baseman] Andres Galarraga [whom Minaya signed to a minor league deal]. He's still the biggest star in Venezuela -- the Michael Jordan of Venezuela. And those countries are all hotbeds of prospects, who will all be following the Mets."

• New York City: The Yankees have dominated the Mets in all measurable criteria over the past decade or so -- attendance totals, back-page headlines, championships, etc. But it wasn't always that way: The Mets outdrew the Yankees in attendance as recently as 1992 -- and for eight years in a row prior to that -- and they believe they can do it again.

"After this year, I don't know who's going to be second [in the city]. It remains to be seen," Martinez said. "Even though the Yankees are a very upscale team, and winners, I believe we can make a change."

Minaya's choice as manager, Willie Randolph, is also a New Yorker, having grown up in Brooklyn as a Mets fan, then becoming a six-time all-star for the Yankees.

Minaya has another theory about why the Mets can dominate the city again: "This is a National League town, man," he said.

When a reporter looked at him quizzically, he continued:

"Think about it," he said. "Up until the 1950s there were two National League teams in the city [the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants]. The people who are baseball fans today, their fathers and grandfathers grew up in that era. And how is baseball passed down? From fathers to sons. I'm telling you: This is a National League town."

• The NL East: In 2004, the Mets came within four games of a third straight last-place finish -- Minaya's Expos, with their shoestring budget, beat them by 7 1/2 games in 2002 and 16 1/2 games in 2003, an embarrassing reality for a franchise with the resources of the Mets.

Although the Mets believe they can end Atlanta's reign of 13 straight division titles this season, their master plan is more targeted toward 2006 -- when they get out from under the contracts of Mike Piazza and Tom Glavine, and when their cable network is set to debut, with all its revenue-generating potential.

The defining trait of the Mets franchise in the last half-decade was its queasiness for risk-taking. The Mets danced around the edges of the bidding for stars such as Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero, but always found a reason not to go the necessary step to get something done.

Under Minaya, that era is over -- which is not surprising. His reputation for the stunning move was built in Montreal, where, with the Expos on the fringes of contention in the summer of 2002, he somehow managed to acquire ace Bartolo Colon and slugger Cliff Floyd -- and their hefty contracts -- without adding anything to his MLB-mandated payroll.

This winter, to get Martinez, he did what even the Red Sox would not -- guarantee a fourth year. For Beltran, he engineered the first nine-figure contract in baseball in nearly four years. How long would it have taken him to spend $200 million in Montreal? Fifty years? Minaya laughs.

"We're just doing the same things we did in Montreal, but on a bigger scale," he says. "A much bigger scale."

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