WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Pretty much everything has changed from the last time Carlos Beltran wore an Astros uniform. That was in 2004, when the Astros were in the National League, had a different color scheme and uniforms, still had spring camp in Kissimmee, Fla., and had different ownership.
When Beltran reported to the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Friday morning as a member of the 2017 Astros, about the only familiar face he saw was Adam Everett, a Minor League infield coordinator who was a shortstop on the ’04 team on which Beltran dazzled with his memorable postseason run.
Beltran, the 19-year veteran who signed a one-year, $16 million deal to return to Houston this winter, on Friday spoke of expectations and how far he’s come since 2004.
“Honestly, I’m happy to be here and excited to enjoy this ballcub,” he said. “When I look around and look at the names in this clubhouse, you see a lot of guys that know how to play the game of baseball. It’s a young team and at the end of the day, we feel that we have a good chance in our division.”
The Astros acquired Beltran to hit in the middle of their batting order, a switch-hitter and veteran presence in the middle of a deep lineup. Even at 39, he showed last year he has plenty left in the tank by hitting .295 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs in 151 games split between the Yankees and Rangers.
The overall pedigree is impressive. He’s built a Hall of Fame resume that includes nine All-Star Games — including ’04 with the Astros and last year with the Yankees — three Gold Gloves, the 1999 American League Rookie of the Year. He comes with a reputation as one of the game’s great role models, something the Astros hope is a benefit as well.
“Not many players last this long in the league,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who was a teammate of Beltran’s in Kansas City in 2001-02. “He’s been one of the most consistent performers for the last two decades. I think that, in itself, is very unique. The balance he brings, the experience he brings, the attention to detail, the life lessons he’s learned along the way, are irreplaceable.”
When he came to the Astros in a midseason trade in ’04, Beltran looked around a clubhouse that had veterans like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Jeff Kent. Now he’s one of the veterans on a club with up-and-coming stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer and Alex Bregman. It’s his turn to lead.
“This team is really, really close to winning,” said Beltran, who’s still in search of a World Series ring. “When you look at the players on his club, you see a good team and that’s what I want. I have to have the opportunity to play in October. That’s what it’s all about. … Once you get to October, anything can happen. I feel like this team is going to give me that opportunity.”
By Brian McTaggart