Carlos Beltran may not have played much for the Houston Astros during their magical run to winning the 2017 World Series, but his contributions as a veteran leader cannot be understated.
You need look no further than when the Astros found themselves in a 3-2 hole coming back to Houston in the ALCS. They had jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but loss three straight in New York and even the two wins in Houston were nail-biting 2-1 victories. The offense had yet to come out of its shell in five games.
With his teammates silent at their lockers in the visiting clubhouse, Beltran knew he had to do the exact thing he was brought in for. From the Los Angeles Times article:
“I know they’re thinking about the situation,” he later explained. “I know they’re thinking about, ‘Wow, we came here with a 2-0 lead, and now we’re leaving with them up 3-2.’ I know it’s going through their heads, because it was going through my head.”
Beltran stood in front of his corner locker and addressed his teammates. We need to win twice, he told them. Not a big deal. Catcher Brian McCann, like Beltran a former Yankee, did the same.
“Sometimes you see people acting differently than they do in the regular season,” Beltran said. “I just don’t want people to feel down. If you get caught up in the hype and the crowd, it could get into your head. We have a lot of young guys in here who are in their first or second time in the playoffs, and they can get caught up in that.”
After he spoke, the Astros started to move around and prepare for their flight back to Texas. Beltran believed that his simple message had been received.
Beltran’s ability to communicate with players and his baseball I.Q. is a huge reason he was recently considered for the New York Yankees head manager job, despite obviously having exactly zero coaching experience. Beltran is revered across the league, and especially by everyone in the Astros organization.
Astros pitching coach Brent Strom recalled a story of just how much Beltran made Strom’s job easier, by his own admission. From MLB.com:
Industry insiders cite Beltran’s baseball acumen and his ability to communicate with young players, who often revere him, as two of his strengths. In this vein . . . Strom recalled a story Tuesday on MLB Network Radio that spoke to these attributes.
Beltran was so respected by the younger Astros that “the pitchers would listen to him more than they would me,” Strom said, specifically when it came to telegraphing pitches.
“He wore me out,” Strom said, laughing. “He wore me out telling me how my pitchers are tipping. It finally got to the point where I said, ‘I know. I know.’ He really helped me a great deal with Lance McCullers Jr.and Chris Devenski and everybody. It’s really frustrating sitting there, watching your pitcher, and he’s whispering in my ear that a changeup is coming. And there it was. Or a curveball is coming, and there it was.”
“I was just hoping the other team wasn’t picking it up,” Strom said about his pitchers tipping. “[Beltran] really helped me a great deal in that aspect. He actually forced me, and his credibility is such that the pitchers would listen to him more than they would me. We made some appropriate changes, hopefully in time, to curtail the tipping. There is so much of it going on because pitchers are creatures of habit. We have a tendency to go through the routine we go through and we don’t even realize we’re doing it. He was great. This was a leader. Between him and Brian McCann, it was really what this team needed.
“We were good the last couple of years,” Strom said. “But we didn’t have anybody like McCann or Beltran come in and guide the young guys.”
Beltran announced his retirement after the 2017 season, a move many saw coming. His nearly 20-year career is certainly worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but even he admitted the World Series ring that had eluded him was important to validate his time in MLB.
“I had always dreamed about winning a championship, and I chased every opportunity to do so in my career,” Beltran wrote in his piece on The Players’ Tribune. “But I never thought that I needed to win a World Series to make my career complete.”
“… I realized early on that my purpose in this game was to share knowledge with younger players and to give back to the game of baseball. I always wanted to do that — that, and be the best teammate I could possibly be. Over 20 years, I feel like I accomplished that. So whether we won or lost Game 7, I would have still been happy with my career.”
“But it still feels nice to have a ring. …”
There is no doubt Beltran will be coaching baseball in the near future. For now, he is committed to helping Puerto Rico as the nation continues to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Maria. Beltran, originally from Puerto Rico, donated $1 million of his own money and his foundation raised $500,000 for relief efforts.
Beltran admits, in those first few days after the storm hit on Sept 20, he was a “zombie.” From the Sports Illustrated article:
“I went to the ballpark like a zombie,” he says of those first few days. “I was there, but I was not there.”
He couldn’t sleep. He could barely eat. He just waited, bleary-eyed, for his phone to ring with news of his family. In the meantime he and his wife, Jessica, who is also from Carlos’s hometown of Manatí, set up a CrowdRise page to collect funds for their charity, Fundación Carlos Beltrán. He had been horrified by what he saw on TV: The Category 5 hurricane had left nearly all of the 3.4 million residents without electricity and almost half without water. The death toll is believed to be greater than 1,000.
After six days without any news, his brother, Wilfredo, called, and the normally stoic Beltrán burst into tears. His family was O.K. Wilfredo told him of waiting more than 24 hours in line for gas and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in his car. He made it to the grocery store, only to find the shelves empty. Carlos thought of the postgame spreads that awaited him, his comfortable home and the lavish hotel accommodations on the road. He told Jessica, “We have to do more.”
For following through on that pledge, Beltrán is the winner of Sports Illustrated’s inaugural Hope Award, which recognizes athletes who deliver that precious commodity to the place they call home.
The city of Houston will always be grateful for the contributions Carlos Beltran made to this magical 2017 Houston Astros squad. However, sometimes life throws us a curveball. Beltran saw life tipping this curveball and immediately set out to help the people in his home country of Puerto Rico. The fact that he was able to balance being a professional while not knowing if his family was alive is beyond admirable.
Here’s to hoping his and other contributions help Puerto Rico recover as best it can.