MLB’s Carlos Beltran More Than A Ballplayer

Independent/Ed Shin

Carlos Beltran’s adjustments to and within the Major Leagues were a challenge, but for the 20-year ballplayer and World Series champion, pushing through those struggles, and the opportunities the sport afforded him, meant so much more than his storied and potential Hall of Fame career.

During his final years, when he wasn’t preparing for games or traveling during the playoffs, he spent hours on the phone coordinating trips to take supplies to Puerto Rico to help in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. In 2017, he was honored for this work through his Carlos Beltran Foundation, which he created 15 years ago, with the Sports Illustrated Hope Award.

He is currently helping build homes for seven families in Puerto Rico thorough his nonprofit. At a Bridgehampton Benefit event titled “Operation Rise Up” at the Southampton Arts Center Saturday, July 27, it not only celebrated the MLB player’s 2017 retirement, but continued to raise funds and awareness for his foundation, as well as for Operation International, which provides free medical care to people in need in countries around the world.

Growing up in Manatí, Puerto Rico, Beltran had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the ballpark as the son of a ballplayer, who watched his older brother, uncles, and cousins take to the diamond. But things became difficult quickly when the then-18-year-old signed with the Kansas City Royals in 1995.

“It was a big challenge,” Beltran said. “I come from a super humble family in Puerto Rico, and didn’t speak any English when I first got to the States. It was a different culture. It was hard for me to adapt, to adjust.”

He said showing up at the ballpark for his first practice, he immediately understood what he was in for.

“I couldn’t understand a word the coach was saying,” Beltran said. “While it was a struggle, I knew that to be successful in life I’d have to push through the struggles. In my case, I was able to focus on English, learn the language so I can continue to improve my game. When I overcame those moments, I understood that it made me stronger.”

Then came his first at-bat when he reached the big leagues in 1998. Again, he was overwhelmed.

“I was nervous, maybe even scared,” Beltran said, especially because he’d skipped Triple-A to get to The Show. “I got a hit, and I was able to breathe again, relax. I told myself ‘Now it’s time to get out there, have fun, and enjoy the opportunity,’ because at the end of the day, when you get that call and you get that chance to play in the big leagues, you don’t know how long you’re going to play, how many years your career will last.”

Beltran ended up having 20 of those, being productive even in the later years. The outfielder is touted as being as consistent as they come — finishing his career with a .279 average on 2725 hits, with 435 home runs (fourth most by a switch-hitter), 1587 RBI, 312 stolen bases, a .350 on-base percentage, .486 slugging, and five seasons with a 5 or more WAR — not only because he practiced, but because he studied.

Teaching Himself, And His Teammates

First, Beltran trained his eye to see the details.

“You’re training your mind, your brain to process information differently and find the information that matters in that moment,” said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Southampton event on Saturday. He said ballplayers have just four-tenths of a second to hit the ball. “If you don’t know, let’s say, what pitch is coming to you, some of that time is wasted figuring it out, and then thinking about how you’re going to hit that pitch,” deGrasse Tyson said. “That extra fraction of a second, with prior knowledge, he’s all on it.”

It took away the element of gamble, but so did reviewing film. Beltran was behind the tapes, and brought that habit with him to the Houston Astros, the last team he played for before retiring in 2017. It was also the year these win the World Series. It’s a routine he instilled in his teammates like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and A.J. Hinch.

“Just his presence made us better,” Hinch told Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle. “He had so much to add, he has so much experience. And he’s a great player. It makes a world of difference to have someone like that in the clubhouse.”

Alex Bregman said he went to Beltran, a nine-time All-Star, three-time Golden Glove winner, and American League Rookie of the Year, before the postseason to ask about how to handle the playoffs.

“I said, ‘You’re one of the best postseason players in the history of the game,’” Bregman recalled. “‘I want to know what makes you successful in the postseason.’ And he said, ‘The biggest thing during the postseason is to stick to your approach. Don’t let the moment get too big. If you’re a guy who is a line-drive hitter, be a line-drive hitter. You don’t need to be anything extra in the postseason. Just stick to your plan, what’s worked for you.’”

Beltran said going from a quiet Kansas City team to being under a microscope in a state like New York — playing seven years for the New York Mets and three for the Yankees — taught him to be more accountable. A low-key player, he never sought attention, but also knew how to lead a clubhouse. Because of all he’d brought to the Houston team from those experiences, both with his knowledge and as a motivator, the Astros wanted to help Beltran end his career with a piece of hardware he hadn’t yet received — a World Series ring.

“It’s something we’d talked about,” Correa said. Beltran had made it as far as the World Series — in 2013 with the St. Louis Cardinals, where the team lost Boston Red Sox in six games. “He had done a lot for us. He’d done a lot for me. We wanted to help him win this.”

Beltran said he had decided on retiring before the 2017 season even began, and felt the World Series title win was God’s way of rewarding him for being patient, for his professionalism, his job as a role model, for the work he’d done, and work he has not finished. The Astros edged the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 5-1 Game 7 win.

Forming A Foundation

Beltran said having those like deGrasse Tyson, former Met and San Francisco Giants World Series champion Andres Torres, musician Bob Marley’s son Rohan, and stand-up comedian Chuck Nice come to the Southampton Arts Center to support him July 27 meant everything.

“It’s a confirmation that people are believing in what we’re doing,” he said.

Operation International’s co-founder and chairman of its board of directors felt similarly.

“Our medical mission to Uganda was very fulfilling for our entire team,” said Hamptons doctor Medhat Allam, MD. “As part of our mission to save as many lives as possible in impoverished countries where people are faced with the lack of quality health services, we performed 72 major complex surgical procedures during 16-hour days on congenital anomalies, severe burn reconstructions, and benign and malignant tumors.”

Beltran also began the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico, which opened its doors in 2011. He donated portions of his paychecks since 2005 to build the school that helps students become heroes in their community — many the first generation in their families to attend college. For his work, he was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award, named for the most famed Puerto Rican ballplayer who is the only one from their country to have produced more WAR than Beltran, and given to the one “who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.”

“We have received so much in our lives,” Beltran said of himself and his family. “I was able to take advantage of my opportunities and not only that, but use the platform that God gave me to do good things. You see how appreciative these families are having someone to help them get back to living a normal life. It’s important that we help in any way we can. Every day I wake up happy to be alive. I’ve come to realize that time has more value than money.”

Months after retiring, Beltran began work in the Yankees front office as a special advisor, writing his version of scouting reports and counseling players within the organization. He’s worked with current Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres, and minor league center fielder Estevan Florial — the team’s top prospect.

“Baseball is like the game of life, and I feel I can approach life differently because of baseball,” Beltran said. “We have to grind, we have to have faith, we have to motivate ourselves, be strong, be positive. Baseball has taught me those values I keep with me today. When I think about legacy, it’s not about the numbers I put up when I played or the awards that I’ve won, it’s the lives I’ve been able to touch. We have to think about how we want to be remembered when we’re not here.”

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