Thursday, July 21, 2011

Appreciating Carlos Beltran

In early 2005, after Pedro Martinez had signed with the Mets, most doubted that Carlos Beltran would soon follow. He was a sweet swinging, switch hitting, 27 year old gold glove center fielder. The Mets and their fans wanted him badly. One night in January, while I was at a friends house keeping one eye on the Jets Playoff game (I'm a Giants fan), I followed the Beltran developments like a madman: He was going to Houston. Wait, now he's undecided. Now he's deciding between Houston and the Mets. Houston won't give him a full no-trade clause...Beltran is a Met.

The Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran signings were the two moves that pulled the Mets out of the abyss. Without conducting research, I can't conclusively say that most Mets fans didn't appreciate Carlos Beltran enough - but that's the feeling I always got. To many, he wasn't boisterous enough. Didn't say enough. Didn't do enough. To me, he did it all.

Beltran didn't have the greatest debut season in 2005, but what I remember from that year is Carlos hitting one high off the right field scoreboard at Shea. I remember the ridiculous home run robbing catch he made against the Angels at Shea - an inning before Marlon Anderson's inside the park home run tied the game in the 9th, two innings before Cliff Floyd hit one of the most memorable walk off home runs ever in the 10th. A home run that left me rolling around on the ground in celebration in front of my seats in Section 22, Row A of the Loge. I remember screaming in horror when Beltran and Mike Cameron smashed into each other in the outfield later that season. And I remember the team telling Carlos to take the rest of the year off, only for him to return and play the remainder of the year with broken bones in his face.

From 2006 to 2008, Carlos Beltran was incredible - eclipsing 112 RBI's each year. 2006 was the year of the walkoff for the Mets, and Beltran delivered the most memorable one in extra innings against the Phillies. In the NLCS, he won Game 1 with a home run, and led the team to a win in Game 4 with two more. Yet, all anyone wants to remember about that NLCS is the called strike 3 he took with the winning runs on base in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7. I was there. It was a crushing end to what could have been a magical year. But the Mets would've never made it to that game if Beltran hadn't almost single-handedly won two games in that series by himself. And the curveball he took for strike 3 was a nearly unhittable pitch. More glaring in that inning was Randolph not bunting with runners on 1st and 2nd and no one out. But everyone needs a scapegoat - and Carlos was it.

Both 2007 and 2008 ended painfully for the Mets - with the team getting eliminated from contention on the last day of each season at Shea. In 2008, though, Beltran gave the old place one last jolt with his game tying 2 run homer. As "Twist and Shout" blared, Beltran rounded the bases and disappeared into the dugout as I and everyone around me went berserk. I'll never forget that moment. Even in defeat, there are great memories that will never go away. Especially for those who were there that afternoon.

Carlos Beltran dealt with a multitude of injuries during the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, leading many fans to classify him as soft - a notion that was and always will be completely absurd. This year, he returned and showed what kind of player he can still be.

When all is said and done, Carlos Beltran will be remembered for being one of the best players the Mets have ever had - and perhaps one of the top two all around players in the history of the franchise. Carlos Beltran was a leader, usually by example. Once he got comfortable in New York, he would constantly take young or struggling players under his wing. He always played hard. Always played hurt. Always carried himself with dignity and class. Too often, people misconstrued his lack of emotion for lack of caring. The relaxed demeanor was just how Carlos was. He didn't often let his guard down. However, if you look at his face after some of the at bats where he delivered, the smile is there. The emotion is there. Carlos cared just as much, if not more, than the other 24 guys.

If today was Carlos Beltran's last home game as a Met, that's simply a damn shame for all of us who have grown to love and respect how he plays the game. I wish I could've been there. I wish we all could've filled the place and given him the rousing ovation he deserved. Those who were there did their best, but it wasn't enough. Hopefully, Carlos knows how much we appreciated him. If he comes back to Citi Field this year or next in a different uniform, I'm confident we'll give him the long-lasting ovation he's earned.

Thanks for everything, Carlos.

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