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Colombia Revers Marlins’ Renteria

October 27, 1997

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Edgar Renteria might well have been just another street vendor. As a boy in the Caribbean port city of Barranquilla, he grew up poor, the youngest of eight, helping his mother sell fruit and fish.

But he learned a thing or two about baseball in a country where soccer is king. And now Renteria is a long way from the fruit and fish stands, a World Series hero revered in his homeland.

The 22-year-old shortstop knocked in the winning run in the 11th inning of Game 7 on Sunday night, sending the Florida Marlins past the Cleveland Indians 3-2 and sending the partying in Colombia deep into the night.

Radio networks interrupted reporting nationwide election returns several times on Sunday night when Game 7 went to extra innings and Renteria came to bat with two outs. The came the bases-loaded single up the middle.

``The party went on for hours and hours,″ Tatiana Paola Escarraga of the Barranquilla newspaper El Heraldo said of the fiesta in the ballplayer’s hometown. ``It was like no one wanted to wake up from the dream.″

In a nation where so much of the news is about drugs and violence, Renteria’s triumph is a blessing.

Even before his World Series heroics, Renteria was all over newspaper front pages, smiling broadly from a full-page ad for a malt drink for kids. For broadcasters, Renteria was a coveted interview.

He is only the fourth Colombian _ and the only significant player _ to make it to the major leagues, and the only one to play in a World Series. It is a telling measure of his fame that for a few weeks Renteria was able to push soccer to the inside pages of sports sections in Colombian newspapers.

Renteria’s father died when he was young, leaving his mother, Visitacion, to raise four boys and four girls. A high school dropout, Renteria dreamed of being a soccer star:

``I wanted to score goals as a forward,″ he told the Bogota newspaper El Tiempo recently. ``I was a good goal-scorer.″

But baseball, widely played in Colombia only on the Caribbean coast, proved to be the ticket. Spotted by Venezuelan talent scout Levy Ochoa playing in Colombia’s national youth championships, Renteria was recruited by the Marlins in 1992.

Edgar’s brother, Edison, a minor league instructor with the Atlanta Braves organization, also made it to the United States but never past Triple-A.

Edgar’s ascent, however, was swift. Last year, he finished second in National League rookie of the year vote behind Todd Hollandsworth of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This year the spotlight intensified, prompting newspaper columns on baseball’s fine points for the flurry of new fans who had no clue about the rules.

Not so in Montecristo, the teeming barrio where Edgar grew up and pickup baseball games are an everyday thing.

It was like carnival Sunday night at the home of Renteria’s sisters Emperatriz and Sofia. Beer and the local fire water, aguardiente, flowed freely despite a ban on their sale because of the national elections.

``There was such a crush of people that I got a bad headache and had to run out to a calmer place,″ Sofia said.

Barranquilla’s mayor, Edgardo George, declared Monday a city holiday and began organizing a welcoming reception for the city’s favorite son, who is expected home this weekend after a trip to the White House.

``When Edgar arrives, we’ll heap all sorts of honors on him and the city will be paralyzed,″ George said.

Renteria, it’s well known, is partial to a salsa beat and dancing the merengue. And when he comes home, it will seem as if the music will never stop.

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