Nevertheless, we will tire of Carlos Beltran. Let me be the first to welcome him to Flushing and show him the door. Not for at least five years, I hope, but it’ll happen. He or his swing will slow down. The strange breezes and thunderous flight path to LaGuardia will get to him. He won’t lead us to the promised land nearly enough and his salary will become unmanageable. He will get booed. Not now, but eventually. It always happens.
That’s Greg, from the second-ever post on Faith and Fear in Flushing. Seven years is a long time, in baseball years or the more mundane variety. But even a long time turns into a short time, and then trickles down into its final days. And now that we stand near the end, we can see that everything Greg predicted came true. Even sooner than we thought, in fact.
That first year was poor by Beltran’s standards, and by the impossible standards of $119 million deals, and he was booed. It wasn’t until his delayed curtain call early the next year that peace was reached between player and fans. He put up a monstrous year in 2006 — one of the best individual performances in Mets history for one of the best teams in Mets history — but it got tainted by an unhittable curve ball at the worst possible time. Then came two more wonderful seasons in which the team stumbled at the end despite Beltran’s best efforts, and then injuries and worse things. There was the shameful farce of the Mets not being able to speak with one voice on Beltran’s knee surgery, then trying to blame the player for their inability to get their act together. That was followed by his employers throwing him to the media wolves with an unseemly glee for not visiting Walter Reed, only to discover Beltran had a previous engagement with his own foundation, which builds schools in Puerto Rico.
So yeah, a lot of stuff happened in those first six years.
Yeah, some in the crowd tired of him.
Yeah, he slowed down.
Yeah, things got to him.
No, he didn’t lead us to the promised land nearly enough.
Yeah, his salary was seen as unmanageable.
Yeah, he got booed.
But there was a seventh year — and one of the many nice things about that seventh year is that it’s swept a lot of that nonsense away, forcing all but the most rabidly small-minded fans to admit what’s long been true: That Carlos Beltran is one of the greatest position players to ever wear a New York Mets uniform. (His career WAR of 32.1 is second in club history, behind only Darryl Strawberry.) When his reflexive naysayers predicted he wouldn’t yield center field in 2011, Beltran snuffed the fuse on a media controversy by volunteering to go to right. He’s been a leader and a mentor. He’s been durable. And he’s carried the team as it’s been shorn of one bat after another. It’s been a good enough year to shut up the yahoo choir, which in New York City is no easy trick.
Somehow those seven years have turned into 10 or 11 weeks, which combines with the logic of payrolls and prospects to turn into the very real possibility of 10 days: The Mets don’t return home until Aug. 1, which means Beltran probably won’t be with them when they do. (Yes, there’s been talk of the Mets trading him and then re-signing him, and Beltran has said the right things about that. But if you were Beltran, would you come back to an organization that’s treated you this shabbily?) I understand the logic for trading him, and if Beltran becomes a Giant or a Red Sock or an Indian or a Phillie or a Brave I’ll be philosophical about it, particularly if he yields a good prospect or two. The alternative is polite December words about New York and its fans, which won’t be much good for the rebuilding process.
But all that’s to argue about and worry over when it happens. Today was about taking a last look at him in our park. That was why I went to Citi Field, despite conditions being more appropriate for a Mercury Mets game. That’s why I sat in the molten sun of the Pepsi Porch with my friend Will watching the Mets do not a lot against Jake Westbrook and the Cardinals. (They at least had the decency to lose in a tidy 127 minutes.) But the game was secondary. Uppermost in my mind was Beltran, and being able to say I said farewell to him as best I could.
Beltran didn’t do much today — but then one Jose Reyes triple aside, nobody did. I watched his deceptively easy glide in right, and smiled at the growing constellation of sunflower hulls surrounding him in the grass, and stood and cheered when he came to the plate, and worriedly did the math in the late innings to figure out if he’d come up again.
He did, and in what might have been his final home at-bat, Mets fans who knew what was happening mostly stood and applauded long and loud. But we were outnumbered by day-campers, who were more interested in Spongebob than a potential change of eras. And all of us, campers and faithful alike, were in an advanced state of mummification by then.
So no, Beltran didn’t win it in a walkoff. I wish he had. But I wished a lot of things for Beltran that never happened. I wish he’d sent one up the gap off Adam Wainwright and been carried off the field by his giddy teammates, who refused to let his feet touch the ground until Detroit. If that’s too much to ask, I wish he’d hit a long drive that was caught, rather than been frozen by an unhittable curve and have to hear about it from talk-radio sluggers. None of those things happened, and Beltran’s final home game may well turn out to be a run-of-the-mill loss.
But he was out there at the end, in the new position he’d volunteered to play, during a scorching day game after a night game, doing his best. He didn’t get the standing ovation he deserved, but those of us who knew what was going on applauded. But that’s always been the case. And if that’s Beltran’s epitaph, at least it’s a fitting one.