It was chilly in Shea Stadium on that October night in 2006, but you couldn’t tell with the energy in the air. Endy Chavez had already provided some magical heroics that night with his leaping catch. Now Carlos Beltran was at the plate with the chance to tie or even win the game for the Mets, sending his team to the World Series.
But he didn’t. He struck out. Looking. And so everyone started blaming Beltran.
I remember walking out of Shea watching people punch walls and filled with anger. But I didn’t share that emotion. Sure, I was upset, but I thought “hey, that was a pretty great game and I’m glad I got to experience it.” And maybe that’s part of why I’ve never been part of the “Blame Beltran” movement among fans. You know, the folks who could never let that 2006 final at bat go.
Tonight Beltran returns to Citi Field in a different uniform. I won’t be there, but I will be there tomorrow afternoon. Unlike with Jose Reyes, I had to make sure I had tickets to see Beltran return. I’ve always appreciated his play as a Met.
I always felt you only got to see a very small piece of how Beltran performed when watching on television. You got to see the sweet swing, but there were other things he did that impressed me.
I sat for many years in the Mezzanine section at Shea watching Beltran patrol the outfield, which was a treat. You don’t get to see on television how he works with the other outfielders to line them up properly. You don’t see how he’d stalk the ball like a cheetah after its prey. He moved along the bases with the same grace. His baseball sense just seemed to come through with everything else he did. It saddens me that his knees have betrayed him.
But everything he did went beyond what we saw on the field. There was another layer to who he was off the field. I remember he said in an interview once how he wanted another chance to send the Mets to the World Series, to atone for the giant sin so many fans hold against him. It saddens me he never got that chance, and some probably blame him too looking beyond the faults of the teams since 2006 (like, oh, the bullpen).
And then there’s the hints of what kind of positive influence he was in the locker room for his teammates, like his offer to pay for Jon Niese’s nose job. You could see how sad his teammates were as they approached what they knew was coming — Beltran Trade Day.
But it wasn’t good enough for some fans since Beltran was a quiet leader. New York fans like fiery athletes. It’s rare to see the fans to embrace someone who is quiet and reserved, which has been the case with Mariano Rivera and shows how great he truly is. Beltran wasn’t Mike Piazza, who had a giant personality and was always willing to talk with the press. He’s not Pedro Martinez or John Franco or so many others in recently history who were vocal and at times outspoken. He was reserved. And people hold that against him saying he’s soft or not trying hard enough.
The Mets need more players like Carlos Beltran. Not only that, think of the influence he’d have on some of the young players as they grow. But I also think his influence means there are players much like him already on the roster. David Wright was influenced by Carlos Beltran, for example. You can’t dismiss what that has done for Wright, especially as he’s having a MVP type season. And Beltran’s influence will be passed through players like Wright to the next generation.
I’m sure there will be some who boo tonight, much like they did for Reyes, but I will never be able to boo Beltran. He was always class for this organization, and I intend to treat him the same way he treated his teammates.