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01/12/08 4:49 PM ET

Minoso honored by Robinson Award

Longtime White Sox great struggles to find words of gratitude

KANSAS CITY -- The tears welled in his eyes Saturday as Minnie Minoso leaned against a rail in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and talked about an honor that he was to receive later in the night.

It was a few hours before Minoso was to step onto the stage across the street inside The Gem Theater to accept The Jackie Robinson Legacy Award, a tribute to Minoso's lifetime of work on behalf of baseball.

Having thought about the honor for weeks, Minoso now labored for the right words to express his gratitude.

"This is something beautiful," he said. "I wanna thank everyone who was involved in making this kind of decision."

Minoso was appreciative that people had thought enough of him and his work to give him an honor that bore the name of the man who had, 61 years earlier, opened doors to the Major Leagues for blacks and Latinos to enter.

He was one of the first men to take those often tentative steps, and once Minoso got through the door, he made sure it stayed open for others. He used every opportunity he found to sell the values of baseball.

The Robinson Legacy Award celebrates Minoso's lifetime of promoting baseball. In that role, Minoso joined Yogi Berra, the late Buck O'Neil and Bob Feller, iconic figures whose ties to the game stretched back into the 1940s, as an ambassador for the game.

"As long as I be able to talk," Minoso said, "I'm gonna be talkin' about this game. I talk to anybody. I tell everybody how I feel."

He has plenty to tell, too.

Few men have faced the trials that Minoso has in reaching the big leagues. He learned the game on the rock-hard, unmanicured fields in pre-Castro Cuba. He then fled Cuba to cast his lot in America.

Once he arrived in the United States, Minoso honed those talents in the Negro Leagues. He crisscrossed the country with black teammates, and as the first black Latino in the Majors, he faced the same intractable racism Robinson and Larry Doby did in trying to play the game.

"The story of the Negro Leagues doesn't lie in the adversity but in how these men handled that adversity," said Bob Kendrick, marketing director of the museum.

In the face of adversity, Minoso found opportunity. In the summer of '49, he broke into the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians.

For Minoso, those early years would solidify his friendship with the game, a friendship he's clung to deep into life after his playing days. Baseball was as much who Minnie Minoso was as it was what he did to earn a living.

The two were drawn to each other, tied together forever by circumstances. The game was all Minoso knew, so if baseball is all a man knows, how does he move on to something else? He doesn't, and Minoso never did.

Even in the twilight of life, the octogenarian bounces around the baseball world with the vigor of men a fraction of his age. One day he's in Atlantic City, another day he's in Kansas City.

Everywhere, though, he's taking baseball along for the ride. While Minoso might have left a piece of his heart in Cuba, he left the rest of himself everywhere else that men play baseball. His performance on the field showcased a player who possessed extraordinary talent, and it was a performance that should have been legacy enough for any ballplayer.

But baseball has much to give Minoso, perhaps the most popular player in White Sox history, in the way of a thank you, and Saturday night, he will pick up a small acknowledgement of his contribution to the game from a place that values his origins.

While it might not mean as much to Minoso as induction into Cooperstown, he cannot look at his Robinson Legacy as a cut-rate honor, Kendrick said. The award is a salute to what he has meant to the game -- the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues.

Minoso saw it that way, too. His voice choked with emotion as he talked about accepting an award named for Robinson. "I wish I speak better English to express my feelings in words what this means to me," he said.

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.