Omar Minaya put down the paintbrush he had been using to put a new coat of green on a playground slide and took a look around at the park in Corona where he spent a good chunk of his childhood.
"This place was the center of the neighborhood," the Mets' general manager said. "I played a lot of baseball here, and the basketball court used to be a pool, which was great on hot days."
Minaya was back in Corona, the neighborhood where he grew up, as part of a Mets community service project. He and Mets players Chris Carter and Alex Cora led a group of volunteers at Linden Park in painting the playground's equipment before giving a baseball clinic.
Minaya didn't need a good excuse to be back in his old 'hood, however. He frequently stops here on his way to work at Citi Field, little more than a mile away.
Minaya says growing up here helped him develop the type of attitude he needed to get by at the end of last season and the beginning of this one, when it seemed as if just about everyone was calling for his head.
"I think being a New Yorker and growing up in a neighborhood like this, you learn not to let all the drama, all the noise get to you," Minaya said. "It's sort of like driving a taxi. You try to stay focused and not listen to all the noise."
The tenor of that noise has changed dramatically as the Mets' fortunes have reversed. Though Minaya still is on the hook for the bad contracts he gave Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, many of his moves have panned out.
Previously unheralded acquisitions Carter, R.A. Dickey, Hisanori Takahashi and Rod Barajas have paid surprising dividends. The farm system has produced some impressive talent in the form of Jon Niese, Ike Davis, Jenrry Mejia and Ruben Tejada. And last July's trade of Ryan Church for Jeff Francoeur now looks brilliant.
But Minaya said he doesn't feel any sense of vindication.
"I really don't feel that way," he said. "I'm a baseball general manager and I know that people are always going to have opinions about your moves, especially in New York, where people are passionate. Everyone always thinks they can do a better job, and I have no problem with that."
As a reporter walked into the park carrying a tape recorder, a man relaxing on a park bench asked her to "say hi to Omar" and ask him when he's going to get another pitcher.
Said Omar: "I like to think growing up around here has really helped me. It's helped keep me grounded."