One of the happiest nights of my recent Mets life materialized in the wee hours of January 9, 2005 when word filtered up from Texas that Carlos Beltran would not re-sign with the Astros. It took a little sorting and a lot of clicking, but at exactly 1 AM I was able to send to my little group of fellow travelers an e-mail entitled, “Batting third, the Mets centerfielder, No. 15…” In it, I had cut and pasted a Houston Chronicle article that came topped with a delicious hed and subhed:
He's gone: Astros fail to reach deal with Beltran
All-Star center fielder to sign with Mets
The only thing I added to my note was, “If the Houston Chronicle is correct, let La Fiesta Del Beltran begin.”
I sent six more e-mails in the next 40 minutes. This one summed it up best:
Not knowing the contract, the length, the future at large (though I do recall similar giddiness on December nights in the distant past at the thought that we outbid the world for Bobby Bonilla — the first time, of course), it's the most wonderful feeling in the world to know we got a guy that EVERYBODY in the baseball world assigned to the Skanks. As recently as this morning, I was reading columns that said forget the Mets, he's going back to Houston and if he doesn't, just you wait for George.
What a winter. First Pedro then Carlos. Pedro was a controversial signing, you'll recall. Some watched him wilt against his “daddies” a couple of times and thought that was a sign of decline to come. But almost everybody wanted Carlos. I know I wanted Carlos. When we kicked off this exercise in Faith and Fear on February 16, the first thing I wanted to talk about was No. 15, the Mets centerfielder, batting third:
Carlos Beltran, of course, is the reason we're feeling — what's it called? — oh yes, optimistic. I stayed up all night waiting for Dr. Minaya to deliver our bouncing Beltran in mid-January. It was the best night the Mets ever had in the dead of winter. A contract of seven years? Hell, give him seventy. Doesn't matter. Why? Because we wanted him and we got him. We got the best player out there. We didn't sign Tom Hausman and Elliott Maddox, but a real free agent. We're all much happier, better looking and five inches taller as a result.
I also felt compelled to point out that someday the fans would tire of Carlos because seven years is a long time and we turn on everybody eventually, but mostly I was sure he was our savior.
My goodness that was a long time ago. Six months? Seems like six years. Seems like Beltran has skipped over the heroics and has arrived at his Fin de Siecle at the same time as Piazza has reached his.
But it has only been six months. I'd like to think the Mets signed Beltran for seven years not because Scott Boras played them like a country fiddle but because they expect him to produce for the better part of a decade. Within such a time frame, it is reasonable to expect a talented player to endure a span of four so-so months, half of those hamstrung by an injury. What was totally unexpected was that relatively brief stretch of mediocrity would lead off the contract's first year.
When Carlos Beltran returned to Minute Maid Park Thursday night, the sell-out crowd booed the way people with a phlegm buildup clear their throats — continuously. It was apparently a big deal to the Astros fans. Didn't even occur to me it would be, but they have their own issues. They were big on laying into Mike Hampton when he pitched for us. Metsopotamians can't say much about giving the bum's rush to a player who meant a ton to a franchise's playoff push but then left for bigger money. Hell, we did it to Hampton. The Houston fans still came off as yahoos. It's a yahoo town, so par for the course.
What struck me was not the ingratitude expressed toward Beltran for lifting their team on his back and carrying it within an inch of their first World Series. It's that they found him worth spewing so much venom over for nine solid innings. Yeah, he mouthed the words athletes mouth when they're negotiating, hinting that he could stand to spend the next seven years in Houston. But who takes that sort of tripe seriously? I know it's a different media market, but didn't living in the same state as the Texas Rangers when Alex Rodriguez committed to life in Arlington teach them anything?
I'm under no illusion that it was Carlos Beltran's childhood dream to be a New York Met, not even a New Met. If the Yankees or Cubs had ponied up or if the Astros had relented on a no-trade, he would've found a way to have always wanted to be one of them. We paid, he signed. That's how guys become yours these days. Grow up Houston.
Carlos Beltran's been a nice player for us. Covers a lot of ground. Sometimes plays too deep. Dives like an idiot into first on occasion (he's not alone). Hasn't hit nearly enough. He'll be here for 6-1/3 more seasons. Something tells me he's going to be fine. I'll go so as far to bet he'll be worth booing in yahoo outposts like Houston eventually. At the present time, he's not.
The actual savior we signed last winter was also on the field Thursday night. That, of course, was the alleged problem child Pedro Martinez. He was magic, just as he's been every time out in 2005. The Mets wasted his eight sparkling innings, his muscling up to escape a late jam and his desire to compete. How much does he want to be The Man? So much so that he was ready to go out there and hit for himself in the top of the ninth after throwing 117 pitches on an allegedly troublesome toe. In the wake of perhaps the most irritating loss since that potentially fatal case of the chokes in Pittsburgh, you can still stand back and marvel at what Pedro Martinez has done for the Mets.
July may not be a very good time to trade for a savior, but January is hardly the month to identify which player will be your salvation.