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Miñoso (above, at a White Sox holiday party) likes to brag about having played professional baseball across seven decades. Now, he says, “I don’t have what I used to have. It’s not my time.”
It was midspring, the hopeful season when every team clings to pennant dreams, and the fans at U.S. Cellular Field were either sitting quietly in their seats, passing beers fire-brigade-style, watching the White Sox fall apart against the Orioles, or strolling the concourse, carrying nacho platters that came loaded, breathtakingly, in upside-down baseball helmets.
It was just another day at the ballpark, in other words, until the fourth inning, when a ripple began to move through the concourse on the first-base side and the nearby fans looked around.
“What’s up, Minnie!” called out a security guard.
“How ya doin’, sweetie pie?” shouted a woman working a hot dog stand.
A middle-aged man bent over to tell his daughter, “You see that guy over there? That guy’s a legend.”
A woman in a black-and-white Sox jersey approached to ask if the legend would autograph her left breast.
Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso, a.k.a. the Cuban Comet, is 86 years old now. Some say he’s really 88. He has been a White Sox employee so long that the human resources department can’t say exactly when he went on the payroll. In his role as ambassador, he attends about 60 games a year, greeting fans and strolling through the crowd, making friends. Some people are so good at making friends they deserve to be paid for it, and Miñoso is one of them.
As he walked to the center-field bleachers on the day of the Orioles game, a knot of people formed around him. It was the 60th anniversary of his first game with the Sox, when he had become the team’s first black player. Miñoso had smiles, small talk, and autographs for everyone.
“Sixty years?” he said. “It’s like 60 days to me.”
At 86, we should all have his energy. We should all be so happy. We should all be asked to sign breasts.
Miñoso still cuts a dashing figure. His compact frame looks almost as lean and muscled as it did in the 1950s, when he ripped line drives into the alleys and shot around the bases, as electrifying a player as Chicagoans have ever seen. His hands remain big and strong, his forearms thick and ropelike. His hair has gone gray, but it hasn’t thinned at all, and his expression, always famously happy, hasn’t changed a bit.
Some of baseball’s biggest stars became poor sports in their later years. DiMaggio got crotchety. Mantle got surly. Williams got ornery. (Although these players were always somewhat crotchety, surly, and ornery, respectively, old age made them worse.) But the second-tier stars like Miñoso, the ones who had to work harder, who made less money, often show greater appreciation for the blessings the sport bestowed on them. Miñoso carries on like a man who won the lottery and then bet it all on a horse, only to win again.
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Photograph: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune