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Thursday, January 13, 2005
Mets hoping to add to Latin flavor

Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Mets executives met with Carlos Delgado on Thursday, hoping the tactic that helped land Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez would lure the free-agent first baseman to New York.

Already in Puerto Rico with Beltran, general manager Omar Minaya and three others met with the 32-year-old slugger in a San Juan hotel, Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said.

"It was just kind of a meet-and-greet thing," Delgado's agent, David Sloane, said. "It was all non-contractual, just a chance for those guys to get to meet each other. The meeting was over in about 20, 30 minutes."

In his first visit to his native Puerto Rico since signing a seven-year, $119 million contract with the Mets on Tuesday, Beltran said the presence of two Latinos in New York's front office -- Minaya, who is Dominican, and his special assistant Tony Bernazard, a Puerto Rican -- gave the Mets a family appeal that made him lean toward the team.

And Minaya's visit to Puerto Rico along with several Mets officials sealed the deal for the 27-year old slugger.

"I know Omar since I was 18. I know Tony," Beltran said. "They came to Puerto Rico to meet with me, which other teams did not do … That showed me they really wanted me."

Minaya and Bernazard met with Delgado along with Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' chief operating office and son of owner Fred Wilpon, and Jim Duquette, senior vice president of baseball operations.

Delgado is also being pursued by the Marlins, and he and Sloane plan to meet Saturday in Florida with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and general manager Larry Beinfest.

"I would characterize this as a more significant meeting because Mr. Loria will be there and I will be there," Sloane said. "We're working to set up a similar meeting as soon as possible with the Mets, but nothing has been set up, yet."

The Mets are hoping that their recent signings of Beltran and Dominican star Martinez will help sway Delgado, who has hit at least 30 homers in each of the past eight seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Minaya said knowing the importance of family and personal contact in Latin culture gave him the idea of visiting Puerto Rico to recruit Beltran. He used the same technique to lure Martinez into a $53 million, four-year deal.

"Maybe the intuition of me understanding the culture led me to our strategy of, 'Let's go a step further, let's go there,' " Minaya said.

Family was one of the key words in Thursday's press conference, in which Beltran spoke only in Spanish, joked, posed for pictures and hugged friends Jose Rosado, a former Kansas City Royals pitcher, and senior golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Beltran tried to recruit Delgado when they talked recently.

"I told him I'm interested in him joining the Mets family," Beltran said.

Hailing from Manati, a small coastal town on Puerto Rico's north coast, Beltran said he never fathomed becoming one of baseball's most coveted stars and the 10th player with a contract worth $100 million or more.

"When I left Manati I left with the desire of working hard and helping my family, giving back to my father and my mother," he said. "Now I told my father he can retire."

His wife and high school sweetheart, Jessica, said the couple does not feel any pressure being a new center of attention in the Big Apple.

She said Beltran is a family-oriented person, who will not draw headlines with off the field.

"Us? Celebrities?" asked Jessica when told that the New York media would probably pay attention to Beltran's every move. "Well, that's not a problem. We're very quiet, very laid back."