- Matt Meyers
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As baseball fans, we love getting worked up about the next big thing. And as someone who follows a Twitter account that alerts me when Bryce Harper is about to come to the plate, I am well aware that I am as guilty of this as anyone.
The problem with this line of thinking is that we sometimes take for granted the older guys because we've been watching them for so long. We really shouldn't. Exhibit A is Carlos Beltran, who put on a show against the Atlanta Braves on Friday and is playing about as well as he ever has at the age of 35.
The switch-hitter went 4-for-5 with two homers, a double, a triple, a walk and 4 RBIs, and even though Atlanta won 9-7 in 12 innings, Beltran was the story. He is now hitting .307/.410/.658 on the young season. No, he's not the basestealing threat he once was, and he's been relegated to right field, but the sweet swing is still there, and the Cardinals are reaping the benefits after signing him to a two-year, $26 million deal last winter that now seems like the steal of the century.
Beltran missed much of the 2009 and 2010 seasons with a variety of injuries while playing for the New York Mets. And even though he posted an .872 OPS with stellar defense and baserunning over the life of the seven-year, $119 million deal he signed with the club before the 2005 season, New York fans never warmed to him due to his aloof nature and the fact that he took a called third strike to end Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series. (I've never really understood this, by the way. It was a great pitch and he was fooled. Taking a harmless hack wouldn't have changed anything.)
But ever since the start of last season Beltran has been locked in. He hit .300 with 22 homers for the Mets and San Francisco Giants in 2011, and this year he has taken his game to a level unseen since 2006, when he tied the Mets' franchise record with 41 home runs and posted a .982 OPS. As ESPN Insider contributor Dave Cameron noted on Twitter earlier this evening, he's basically matching Matt Kemp in terms of performance with a fraction of the hype.
St. Louis fans have a reputation for embracing their players in a way that many other fan bases don't, and here's hoping they are fully appreciating the greatness of Beltran in a way that many New York fans never seemed to. Frankly, we all should be appreciating him more because he's one of the best players of this generation.
With two more stolen bases he will become just the eighth player in baseball history with more than 300 homers and 300 steals, and with another couple of seasons of All-Star level production -- which is not out the question considering his current level of play -- he should have a strong Hall of Fame case. However, we know he can't keep up his current production forever, so let's enjoy it while it's here instead of focusing too much on who might be coming next.