Carlos Beltran photo above courtesy Keith Allison/flickr
Audio: George Brett in Cooperstown, 1999
By Ian Echlin
I have a special fandom toward Carlos Beltran ever since we were paired on-field. I was an honorary lineup participant around ten years old before a Sunday afternoon ballgame, and our short back-and-forth chat sticks with me to this day.
As a ‘90s kid, I only knew about watching the Kansas City Royals when they were at rock bottom. I got used to everyone counting the Royals out of contention before the All Star Break. As grim as the playoff picture seemed, I remember Carlos Beltran as a player who added something positive to a franchise deep in a hole.
Beltran represented one of the players I grew up wanting to like and follow closely. I remember watching Opening Day in 2004 after school. As excited as I was that baseball was back, I’ll never forget Beltran’s walkoff homerun to start the season with a win against the White Sox.
Beltran and second basemen Carlos Febles, Dos Carlos as they became known, made an impact as rookies in 1999. I remember hearing the skeptics and I wondered how long those homegrown players from that time would play together. Or when and if they would be dispersed for greener pastures.
I now realize that Beltran is probably the only Hall of Famer to go through the organization the same time my generation started buying baseball cards and playing little league.
All of those players – Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney – stood out as my favorites with Beltran. They could hit and score runs, but the back end of the Royals bullpen struggled to protect their leads.
Carlos Beltran won the American League Rookie of the Year in 1999, and there wasn’t much to brag about within the organization after that. It was in the middle of a drought in the Royals farm system, and I wondered if Beltran would ever get to see a winning season during his time in Kansas City. After a 9-0 start in 2003, the Royals finally put together a winning record (83-79) with Beltran seemingly hitting his peak at the age of 26. He hit 26 homers, drove in 100 and stole 41 bases.
Beltran gave fans like myself a reason to go to the ballpark.
But everything I heard as a kid regarding free agency would sadly come true. In the end, the Royals as a small market team chose not to shell out the millions to keep everyone. The same season he started Opening Day with the walkoff homerun would be his last in Kansas City. I remember hearing about how the Royals had to wheel and deal in mid-season in hopes of getting a decent return for trading Beltran.
It happened when Beltran was traded to Houston. I was upset since I was emotionally invested and hadn’t grasped the business side of the game yet. The young baseball fans like myself held on to Carlos Beltran autographs. I had to hope the best for him after Kansas City.
It’s hard to blame Beltran as a client of Scott Boras to seek free agency. He was searching for a contending team.
It ended up being a long search for the much-coveted World Series ring he earned this year with the Houston Astros. After his 20-year career and seven teams, he deserved a ring. As much as I would’ve loved for him to win it in Kansas City, I was happy for him.
I believe Beltran has the stats comparable to Hall of Famers. With a solid resume, I think he’ll eventually be inducted in Cooperstown. Now that he’s announced his retirement, it’s just a matter of time before he gets the call.
I had a chance to visit Cooperstown for the 2010 induction weekend. When Beltran gets the call, I’d hate to miss it and hope Royals fans join me for my trip back to Cooperstown.