Once upon a time,
in a castle he had rebuilt from ruins, there lived the most fortunate of men.
At dusk on spring and summer days, he could be found gazing from its ramparts.
From there he could see what other men surrendered in order to reach such
heights. He could see himself. � His castle was a baseball stadium. As the sun
sank, he would walk up a ramp instead of the elevator that others of his rank
preferred, pause and see his whole life unfurled. He could see the wonderful
team he'd assembled, men from faraway lands who played with togetherness and
joy. He could see the neighborhood he had grown up in as an immigrant, the
fields on which he'd played, the wall he used to sneak over to slip into the
castle as a boy. He could see the metallic orb rising from the World's Fair
grounds, the vast globe he'd traveled in search of a treasure that turned out
to have been right here, in front of him, all along. � He could see the train
rumbling into the station just beyond the castle wall and the masses spilling
from it, people whose sweat he'd smelled and breath he'd breathed when he was
crushed against them on that train all his life. Now they called out to him,
"Thank you! Thank you for giving us back our pride!" and were astounded
at how familiarly he waved and called back, at how clearly, unlike other kings
and moguls, he saw himself in them.
No one called him
king, or even the regal name that he was born with: Omar Teodoro Antonio Minaya
y Sanchez. He was too humble for that. His family and friends--even the
President of the United States--called him O.
It was the perfect
name for the major leagues' first Hispanic general manager, the perfect letter.
Round. An opening. A circle that invited outsiders in and made them feel there
was room for them. It was much of the reason that Pedro Martinez had left a
world championship team and an adoring public in Boston to join the New York
Mets, why other stars had soon followed, why Moises Alou had virtually begged
to be included this year. It was why his team looked like the m�lange of
cultures inside that number 7 train beyond rightfield, and the soundtrack at
Shea Stadium pulsed like a festival of music from all their native lands.
But then, everyone
was born an o, with a lifetime of chances and choices that widened or shrank
it. This is the story of O.
His bedroom wall
had one. A tiny circle, bored by a bullet in the early 1960s, a warning shot
meant for his father that had hissed past the bed where little O slept. The
peephole fascinated the boy. But the bullet hadn't hushed O's father any more
than had the two years in jail.
For years Lolo
Minaya had pedaled his rickety bike through the Dominican town of Valverde Mao,
happy to pull over and let anyone know what a bastard Rafael Trujillo was, not
to mention the lapdogs who'd taken the slain dictator's place. It was in Lolo's
blood. His brother had been imprisoned for refusing to fight for the regime, an
insurgent nephew had been executed, and his father, Zoilo, had died after being
slashed with a machete in a dispute that some believed was rooted in Zoilo's
nervous mother, Antonia, kept begging her husband. He'd dismiss her with a wave
as he creaked on his rocking chair, perusing his beloved World Almanac and
spinning dreams--"Do you know how many kilometers from here to the
Himalayas? Thirteen thousand, two hundred and twenty-five! We could leave today
and be there tomorrow! Let's go!" Never sweating the details, because O's
mother was drenched in them.
She'd stunned the
men at a property auction at city hall back in the '30s--what was a young
woman, a vendor of meat pies and sweets, doing in this males' den, bidding to
become a landowner? Antonia won the property and had a house built, turned her
backyard into a school for poor children and a soup kitchen for beggars,
cripples and starving Haitians. So respected grew O's mother that she became
permanent secretary to the mayors of Valverde Mao, invulnerable to the wind
shear of politics ... almost.
Dios m�o, could
she, her daughters, Adelina and Sixta, and the son she'd named for the Persian
poet Omar Khayyam survive her husband's loose tongue? A decade earlier, when
Trujillo ordered every Dominican household to post his picture and the words IN
THIS HOUSE TRUJILLO IS CHIEF, Lolo had barked, "In this house I am
chief!" and crumpled the portrait. Garbagemen who found it in the trash had
tattled, and Lolo had rotted for two years in prison.
Now it was 1965,
four years after Trujillo's assassination, and O's father was loading another
empty casket onto a truck bed and going off to play once more with fire. Two of
O's cousins had melted into the mountains with guerrillas planning to overthrow
Trujillo's successors. Within weeks the rebels had been routed by the army, one
cousin imprisoned and the name of the other, Joseito Crespo, on the
government's list of the dead. So every day for a week Lolo headed for the
hills with a coffin to retrieve Joseito, only to return with the corpse of some
other insurgent instead. O peered into his backyard, so much bigger than it
seemed. Big enough for a school that had educated a Haitian orphan who would
become mayor of Santo Domingo, for a weekly beggars' banquet ... and now for a
freedom fighters' mortuary. Lolo left the bodies there to await their next of
kin, shoved a fresh wooden box onto the truck, bid farewell to his terrified
wife and set out again.