- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- The theme of this week's third installment of "Chat with the New Player" was intended to be how long Carlos Beltran has waited to play for the Yankees.
But by the time it was over, a new theme had emerged: Namely, how long Carlos Beltran has waited to fire back at the Mets.
Although at one point, when Beltran was careful to say, "I'm pretty good at turning pages," it was clear there is one page he has been unable to turn: The page in the May 30, 2011, issue of The New Yorker in which Fred Wilpon not only called himself "a schmuck" for signing Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million contract based on a week's worth of outstanding performance with the Astros in the 2005 postseason, but also mocked his infamous taking of the Adam Wainwright curveball that ended the Mets' 2006 season one win shy of the World Series.
He also mentioned the whispers -- and doubts -- from Mets management about his injuries, and the criticism he took for skipping a team trip to Walter Reed Medical Center in favor of going to Puerto Rico for a charity appearance.
Beltran, of course, wasn't the only Met whom Wilpon skewered in that piece. He also had less than glowing words for Jose Reyes and David Wright. But it was clear that for the failure of the 2006 Mets -- and the franchise's subsequent spiral into irrelevancy -- Wilpon reserved a special share of blame for Beltran.
"Well, you've got to blame somebody," Beltran reasoned. "You've got to blame the guy that makes the most money. That's baseball."
Beltran will bear no such burdens as a Yankee. He comes as a piece of the puzzle, not the foundation of the house. And on this team, his $15 million paycheck places him solidly in the middle class of a very upscale neighborhood.
He didn't come here for the money or to lead the Yankees to a championship. At best, he is hoping to go along with them.
But if he came here to exact some revenge upon the Mets, he could hardly have hoped for a better way to get it.
During the formal portion of the news conference, when everyone was on his and her best behavior in front of the TV cameras before things got real in the back room, general manager Brian Cashman pointed out that Beltran was the latest in a long line of ex-Mets who had made the jump across the river and up the Harlem River Drive to Yankee Stadium. Just like, Cashman said, David Cone and Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
Not coincidentally, all three made significant contributions to Yankees teams that won a World Series, including the one that beat the Mets in 2000. (That must be the reason Cashman didn't include Robin Ventura or Pedro Feliciano on his list.)
And as soft-spoken and seemingly unflappable as Beltran is -- Joe Girardi praised him for his graciousness and professionalism on the podium -- there must be some element of wanting to show the Mets, up close and personal, what he could have done for them had he been surrounded by the proper cast of characters.
"I feel like in my career, my best numbers were with the Mets," said Beltran, who batted .280, hit 149 home runs and drove in 559 runs in his six-plus seasons in Flushing. "You look at those numbers, the years that I was healthy, they were good numbers. It's just that when you don't win, everything is a failure."
That last line sounded as if it had been lifted right out of the Yankees' mission statement.
"I think he's perfect for us and he seems really re-energized to be here," team president Randy Levine said. "As he said today, he grew up as a Yankee fan, he loved Bernie Williams, he always wanted to be a Yankee, and we always respected him and admired him. Thank god the stars aligned and enabled us to do this."
No doubt the Mets said similar things about Beltran on the day they signed him, but somehow, you doubt his Yankees tenure will end with Hal Steinbrenner imitating a batter frozen by a season-ending curveball.
"I can deal with 0-for-4s and three strikeouts and talking to you guys. I can deal with that," Beltran said. "When somebody is trying to hurt you in a personal way, trying to put things out there that are not me, we have trouble. You cannot believe the organization that signed you for seven years is trying to put you down. In that aspect, I felt hurt. I'm a player but they don't only hurt me, they hurt my family, they hurt people around me. It wasn't right, put it that way."
For all intents and purposes, Beltran's Mets career has been defined by one pitch he did not swing at.
Seven years later and eight miles away, he finally gets the chance to swing back.