- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2004

MESA, Ariz. — Carlos Beltran might be the most overlooked and least recognized baseball star today.The Kansas City Royals center fielder likes it that way.

“I always pray to God to be a good player, but at the same time, I want a life,” the 26-year-old Beltran said. “I want to do things that make me happy, go to movies and things like that. When you’re famous like A-Rod and Barry Bonds, those players, they can’t do that.”

His credentials speak for themselves, though, and suggest his talents are right up there with baseball’s more recognizable stars.

Beltran is among six players in baseball history with at least three seasons of 100 runs, 100 RBI and 30 stolen bases. Last year, he became the 11th player — and the first switch-hitter — to bat over .300 while hitting more than 25 home runs and stealing more than 40 bases.

Soft-spoken, modest and unfailingly courteous, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Beltran could melt unnoticed into just about any crowd. Even in Kansas City, where he has played every season of his five-year major league career.

“I don’t expect people out there to know who I am,” Beltran said.

During a 21-game turnaround in 2003 that produced Kansas City’s first winning campaign in nine years, Beltran had one of the finest seasons ever by a Royals player.

After missing the first 14 games with a minor injury, he led the Royals in batting average (.307), runs (102), home runs (26), RBI (100), walks (72), and stolen bases (41).

The short list of players who have had a .300 average, 100 RBI and 40 stolen bases in a single season includes Barry and Bobby Bonds, Joe Morgan, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco — household names in baseball circles.

But even in his native Puerto Rico, where many kids dream of big-league careers, Beltran remains a relative unknown.

“I like that because I can be in peace,” he said. “I’ve never been to an All-Star Game, I’ve never won a Gold Glove. I’ve never played in the playoffs. I always start slow. I finish strong, but I always start slow.

In another distinction, Beltran’s stolen base percentage of .882 (150-for-170) is the all-time best among players with at least 100 steals.

“If you’re not in the All-Star Game, then you’re not a good player. That’s the way most people look at it,” he said.

Buck O’Neil, the Royals’ superscout and 90-year-old walking encyclopedia of baseball history, remembers when he first saw Beltran in 1995 in the Gulf Coast League.

“I immediately thought about the young Willie Mays,” he said. “Willie was 17 the first time I saw him. He could do everything. And so can Carlos Beltran. He can hit for average, hit for power, run, catch and throw. He can be as good as he wants to be.”

And that’s pretty good. Beltran’s goals for this season, his last before becoming eligible for free agency, are far from modest.

“My goal is to try to hit over .307, what I hit last year, and try to hit 30 home runs. And steal a few more bases, and score more than 100 runs. And I want to do well from the beginning, not get off to another slow start.”

If he matches last season, Beltran is sure to be one of the most sought-after free agents, whether fans know who he is or not.

The chances seem scant of him staying in Kansas City, which avoided arbitration by signing him to a one-year, $9 million deal this year.

On the other hand, Beltran does enjoy the Midwestern peace and quiet.

“Right now, I’m not really thinking about it. I just want to have a good season with the Kansas City Royals,” Beltran said. “I know this year we have a chance to win our division and be in the playoffs, an experience that I want to have.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide