Adrian Beltre's guts lead the way
Third baseman's stomach for fight invaluable in Rangers' quest for ultimate prize
It's the kind of toughness that has become just as much a part of Beltre's baseball resume as his spectacular defensive play or penchant for clutch hits. All of it has been on display in 2012 as Beltre has become one extremely valuable player for the Texas Rangers. He may not win the AL MVP after Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout put up impressive numbers and the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown.
But there's no denying how important he is on and off the field as the Rangers attempt to return to the World Series -- and win it this time.
"He does everything for us," manager Ron Washington said. "The only thing he cares about is winning and doing whatever he has to do to help us win games."
That was even more evident in the final few weeks of the regular season.
Beltre had intestinal issues (scar tissue rubbing against him from a previous surgery) that were clearly bothering him as he tried to run and swing. But he pushed through it. After missing one game in Anaheim during the Rangers' final road series, Beltre was back in the next day despite the pain. He hit a big, gut-check home run late to help the Rangers get a victory and take two of three games from the Angels.
A few days later, Beltre strained his abdomen swinging his bat on a double early in the first of seven games against the A's to finish the season. He grimaced and held his stomach several times but would not come out. He ended up hitting the tying two-run homer in the seventh inning and the game-winning RBI single in the ninth to give his team a dramatic walk-off victory.
With less than a week left in the season, Beltre sprained his left shoulder in the first game of a doubleheader against the Angels and then played for most of the second game. The shoulder didn't stop him from staying in the lineup as the DH against the A's to end the season.
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Beltre finished the regular season with a .321 average, 36 homers and 102 RBIs. The homers were the second-most of his career. In September, when his team needed him most as they tried to hold off the hard-charging A's, Beltre had 11 homers and 19 RBIs and was named AL player of the month.
Two years into a five-year, $80 million deal that includes a $16 million vesting option for a sixth year, the Rangers are getting excellent return on their hefty investment. Months before Beltre was set to hit the free-agent market after the 2010 season, Rangers scouting guru Don Welke and senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller were pushing hard for the club to pursue Beltre aggressively.
Both had seen Beltre up close while all three were with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where Beltre played the first six full seasons of his career. Interestingly, Beltre became a Dodger at age 15, which was against MLB rules. The team was fined $200,000 and two officials lost their jobs because of the signing. But Beltre went on to become a staple at third base until he left for the Seattle Mariners after the 2004 season.
Years before Beltre headed north, Welke discovered how tough the slugger could be when he visited him in the Dominican Republic shortly after an offseason gone awry prior to the 2001 campaign.
The wound from the surgery done in the Dominican Republic also didn't heal properly. He had to have a second surgery during spring training that year to close it, and he lost about 30 pounds. Yet he was determined to return to the field as soon as possible.
"He tired to play games with a colostomy bag attached to him under his uniform," Welke said. "Can you imagine? That's how badly the guy wanted to play."
He came back in early May -- earlier than most folks expected, of course -- and played 126 games, hitting .265 with 13 homers and 60 RBIs. He played three more seasons in L.A.
Before Beltre signed his long-term deal with Texas, there were whispers that he played better when his contract was on the line. The numbers supported the theory. His best season was 2004, which included his first trip to the postseason (an NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals). He hit .334 with 48 homers and 121 RBIs and played the entire season with bone spurs in his ankle.
After leaving Seattle in 2009, he signed a one-year contract with the Boston Red Sox in the hopes of showing he was healthy and ready to be productive again. He was, hitting .321 with 28 home runs and 102 RBIs.
But the Rangers never believed the idea that Beltre was playing for a big deal. They felt he wanted to play for a winner and that was his chief motivation.
"We felt as if we had more insight into his personality and into what motivated him rather than teams that would be prone to that kind of superficial analysis," assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "If that is a truism, what else does that say about his makeup? Is he motivated singularly by money? Don and A.J. were so emphatic that it was not a part of the player that we de-emphasized it from the beginning."
“Each year when the season ends, the Rangers make a list of the potential free agents they feel they need to express immediate interest in. Cliff Lee was their prime target that offseason, but Beltre's agent, Scott Boras, was called within the first 24 hours, signaling that the club wanted to talk about Beltre while also pursuing Lee.
He's a leader by example, a leader vocally, a leader comically. Anyway you think of a leader, he's a leader” -- Rangers outfielder David Murphy
"We wanted to express interest and gauge what they think the market is," Levine said. "Scott said we were one of the teams that he felt was one that made sense for Adrian. He was engaged and excited when we called. He filled in some gaps why he thought the player was a good fit. So we felt he had some interest in playing here."
Because they had done their homework, when Lee opted to take a deal from the Philadelphia Phillies in December, the Rangers were able to shift gears to Beltre without a speed bump.
"It wasn't as if we were just turning on the engine and revving it," Levine said. "We weren't the only team interested, but the communication lines were open."
It was a meeting in Las Vegas that made the deal a reality, as Beltre made an immediate connection with Washington. Those in attendance, including GM Jon Daniels, Welke and Boras and his team, could tell it.
Despite the rigorous scouting job, many in the organization admitted that they didn't fully appreciate how good Beltre's golden glove really was until he joined the Rangers. It seems that nearly every game, he comes up with a highlight-reel play.
"He's an unorthodox guy with great hands. And I mean great hands."
Beltre has impressed those who played third base in a Rangers uniform before him.
"If you're going to play that position, you have to be somewhat fearless," Buddy Bell said. "You have to be very aggressive to the ball. All young infielders should practice throwing off-balance and unorthodox. Guys are fast and you might need to make those throws. Most really good infielders are able to throw from where Beltre throws and do it from different angles. What I like about him is that he has a little fun with it. You have to have some of that in your game. There's no doubt he wants to be the best and there's confidence there, but there's a lot of relaxed fun in his game."
Beltre's relaxed style on the field and extreme focus in the weight room and while taking extra grounders has helped make him a leader. He isn't afraid to get on teammates if they aren't doing what they need to be.
"He's everything you would imagine a leader to be," outfielder David Murphy said. "He's a leader by example, a leader vocally, a leader comically. Anyway you think of a leader, he's a leader. It's a pleasure being his teammate and watching him play the game every day."
Washington likes how Beltre takes it upon himself to step up and lead when needed.
"One time Elvis [Andrus] made a lackadaisical play, and I started to get up from my seat and talk to him, and Beltre was already doing it," Washington said. "That's just who he is.
"I've never seen a guy in the past 10 years that's more committed to his team and his teammates than Beltre. The last guy I saw like that was Kirby Puckett, when I played in Minnesota."
"He's been around for a little while, he respects the game and plays the right way," said Andrus, in his fourth year as the club's starting shortstop. "He plays hard. He plays with pain. He's a great person in here. We communicate a lot on the field and we keep it light.
"He's kind of quiet after games. He takes everything serious. I think that's good. I'm the clown in here, so somebody has to help keep it serious."
Beltre disputes that, arguing that he has fun too. And it's clear he's having his most fun between the lines in big games.
"This is why I came here, to play in the playoffs and be on a winner," Beltre said. "This is a great group of guys and we have fun. We have goals and we do all we can to reach them. We'll keep doing that."
And Beltre will keep doing all he can to push them there.