For most of Carlos Beltran's Met career, his critics have focused on two things: his injuries and the called third strike he took in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. But to focus on ONLY those things is both misguided and unfair to the Met outfielder. Of course, in New York you never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
If the truth be told, Beltran has played hurt much more than his other injured Met teammates. In 2005, rather than sit out the season with a concussion he sustained in a collision with Mike Cameron he played hurt and did the same at the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons suffering with extreme knee pain. In that 2008 finale, he nearly dragged the Mets out of the fire with a game tying homer in the Shea finale before Scott Schoeneweis gave the lead right back to Marlins. That should not diminish the importance of the Beltran homer but in many people's eyes it does.
In 2009, Beltran again played hurt hanging on as long as he could but when he did finally succumb to a deep knee bruise, the Met season went right down the chute. After returning last year after the All Star break, Beltran was criticized for his play but he was still in "rehab mode" and it was hard to discern if he had fully recovered from surgery. So, once again all of the Carlos Beltran bashers lined up saying he could not play center field and would make an issue about it in spring training.
When he arrived in Port St. Lucie, Beltran was very composed in his session with the media and acknowledged he'd have to consider moving to right field if it is best for the team. That's a far cry from the reaction that most Beltran bashers would have you believe. I can tell you for a fact that he has lots of baseball left in him and is in great shape because I talked to people who know him best.
Most people know I am closer to Beltran than most of the beat guys and the thing most people don't know about him is this: He is as competitive as they come, has a burning desire to win, and deeply cares about his New York legacy whether he is here in 2012 or not. He is chomping at the bit to get back on the field because the last 2 seasons have been hell for him--he could not perform at the level he was accustomed to because of injuries.
So, it does not really matter to him whether it is right field or center field--as long as it is on the field. Sometimes, the perception of Hispanic players in this country really annoys me and for the record, I am not Hispanic. The feeling among some is they have a cavalier attitude and do not care. Let me tell you baseball in all of the Hispanic countries is revered almost like a religion and when baseball seasons end, the people in those regions don't gravitate to other sports like we do here--they eat, sleep, and drink baseball--it is in the DNA.
Players like Carlos Beltran are symbols in their country of successful athletes who have never forgotten where they came from as evidenced by all of the money and time he devotes to Puerto Rican baseball development. And just for the record, Beltran's involvement in Harlem RBI proves his genorosity has no geographical boundaries.
I know this is a results business and many view the off the field stuff as window dressing but I can tell you Carlos Beltran does not just write out a check and pose for a picture--he spends time with the kids and talks baseball but more importantly, how to play within the rules of the greater game of life. And he does it flying way under the radar.
He will be flying under the radar on the field this year as well until he proves he is healthy. And if he does, the baseball world will notice whether he is in right field or center field.