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Omar Malave's long love affair with baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays dates to when he was a teen growing up dirt poor in the small coastal town of Cumana, Venezuela, and Epy Guerrero dropped by for a visit.

Like many relationships, it got off to a rocky start, with the famous Dominican scout nearly turning brother against brother in the Malave household.

It was all worth it, said Malave, who realized a lifelong dream this month when he finally made his major-league debut, as the Blue Jays' first base coach after 29 years riding the buses as both a player and a coach within the organization.

"I never lost the belief that some day maybe Toronto would give me the opportunity to be there," Malave, 47, said in a recent interview. "As long as you're in a uniform, I think you've always got a chance to be in the major leagues.

"But since that day I got the call from [manager]Cito [Gaston] it's been like a dream and I couldn't wait for opening day in Texas."

Malave's journey to the majors started in August of 1980, when Guerrero, who was working as a Blue Jays scout at the time, arrived in Cumana.

Guerrero had come to take a look at Benito, Malave's brother, who was two years older. Baseball was viewed as a salvation to many of the young boys in the town, a way out of the poverty, and Omar was no exception.

He was 17 at the time and just struggling to exist, one of 10 children (five boys and five girls) growing up in humble surroundings.

His father was a labourer, and the year before, Malave had quit school to help support the family. His first job was in a factory assembling bunk beds for about 50 cents an hour.

"I went through a lot of tough times growing up," he said. "We didn't have much. There were a lot of times we'd only eat one meal a day. Often all we could have was a piece of bread and butter at night."

So when Guerrero showed up - the man who launched the careers of Tony Fernandez and Carlos Delgado - it was big news.

Guerrero scouted Malave's older brother, liked what he saw and signed him to a $5,000 (all currency U.S.) contract. It was suggested that Guerrero also take a look at Omar, who was considered a decent player. He did and came away impressed.

"He wanted to sign me as well, but he told my father the $5,000 he'd spent on my brother was all the money he could spend," Malave said. "They talked it over for a while and in the end they came to an agreement that me and my brother would split the money.

"Benito was so mad about it, I thought he was going to kill me."

The following year, at 18 and unable to speak a word of English, Omar Malave found himself in Florida playing rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League for the Blue Jays.

It was the start of a long association, including nine seasons as a player in Toronto's minor-league system, where the highest level he attained was eight games with Triple-A Syracuse in 1989.

At the end of that season, the Blue Jays approached him about coaching in Medicine Hat, the club's former rookie-level affiliate in the Pioneer League.

Malave was only 26 and unsure if he was ready to give up playing.

"My God, I was still young," he said. "It wasn't an easy decision to make."

But make it he did, and over the next 20 years he bounced around the Blue Jays organization as the skipper at such outposts as Hagerstown, Md., Knoxville, Tenn., Syracuse, N.Y., and Dunedin, Fla., managing more than 2,000 games before finally earning his major-league stripes in Toronto.

"It was worth the wait," Malave said.