GOODBYE TO CARLOS BELTRAN.

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My first encounter with Mets’ fans uneasy relationship with Carlos Beltran was early in the 2006 season. The game went into extras, everyone around me in Section 12 left, and I headed to self-upgrade myself to the Mezzanine Boxes. A few minutes later I was joined by half a dozen Latino kids in their late teens, who had snuck down from the Upper Deck.

They sat there, laughing and punching each other, and yelling things at the field in Spanish. It was one of my classic “I hate that I live in NYC and don’t understand a word of Spanish” moments.

And then, Carlos Beltran came to bat, and then, they got into it, standing in unison and yelling things down at the field, cracking up as they leaned over the railing and hurled what I assumed were insults towards the field. They would crack up after every line and almost dive back behind the railing as though we were the only ones there and they didn’t want Carlos to know what they were yelling.

It wasn’t until two of them almost fell over the row onto me that they noticed I was there. They apologized profusely.
“What are you yelling?” I asked. “I need to learn baseball Spanish.”
“At Beltran, you know?”
I nodded sagely, even though I did not know.
“Here, try this…” one of them said, and then rattled off something in Spanish so fast I couldn’t have repeated it if I tried.
“No, man, you can’t teach her to say that,” one of the others said, elbowing him.
“Well, what about…” and he tried something else.
“My mother would hit me if I said that in the house,” another one said, shaking his head.
My tutor peered down at the field, as Carlos was walking away, and squinted as though he was thinking very hard.
“You know, just this – YOU’RE A BUM, CARLOS! A BUM!”
They cracked up again, laughing uproariously as though it was the funniest thing ever, falling back into their seats and offering me some peanuts from the enormous bag one of them had inside their backpack. Definitely not Shea Stadium issue.

I understood “bum” very well, but I had missed out on Early Beltran. I went to 12 games in 2005, but spent those games just barely keeping my head above water, trying to learn the rules, follow the game, not get overwhelmed the minute after the first pitch was thrown. Back then, baseball just seemed so breathless, so all encompassing. Back then, the fact that I could by the end of the season identify a Met by his uniform number was a tremendous accomplishment.

I remember the game with the horrible accident with Mike Cameron, and I remember the aftermath. It’s when baseball started coming into my consciousness on a regular basis, but not enough for me to have any kind of grudge against Carlos Beltran.

And then there was 2006. And I remember watching him in the outfield, just admiring the athleticism. People would complain “he doesn’t try” but I would be puzzled – don’t we want our baseball players to not have to ‘try’ every day? Don’t we want them to just be good at what they do? Carlos Beltran was good at what he did. I remember reading an interview with him after he caught that ball on Tal’s Hill in Houston, that he said that when he was on the Astros, every day he would practice catching balls on that hill, so that when the time came, he would be ready to do it. So that when he did it, he made it look like it was nothing.

When it was anything but.

My favorite Beltran memory remains that game against the Cardinals in 2006. August 22. TBF noted at the time that this was the closest I had been to a playoff atmosphere. Shea was super-charged, electricity crackling in the air:

And then – and then – the 9th inning.
One out.
 Lo Duca gets to first.
I’m watching the clock, calculating that maybe I can get home at a reasonable hour, maybe it’s going to be okay, maybe we can tie this one up, even with extra innings I’ll be okay, TBF ran home after work to get the car so we aren’t stuck in G train hell. Beltran to the plate. He stands, touches the base with the bat. I can barely remember it now and I need to go set the DVR because dear deity in heaven, I need to see it again.
And then it launches, and people are on their feet, except I have learned enough to not do that automatically any more, but people are on their feet with feeling, and I can’t find the ball, and then I see it at the same moment I rise to my feet, and I stop looking because I want to see what’s going on in the dugout, except the dugout is empty and every one is standing around first base, angled up the third base line, I’ve seen this happen on tv with other teams at other games and love that our love and our intensity and our passion is paralleled at that moment through the players.

And Beltran crosses home plate and bounces – yes, Beltran BOUNCED – into the joyous waiting huddle which immediately engulfed him in raucous celebration. “Taking Care of Business” plays, everyone is high-fiving everyone they possibly can, no one is running out just yet, wanting to watch the celebration on the field, wanting the moment to last just a little longer. I am beaming. TBF is glowing. The scoreboard reads:
BUY ONE CARLOS, GET ONE FREE.

[You can read the rest if you are so inclined. It is one of my favorite pieces of baseball writing, as it so happens.]

Since there will be one jerk who has to come in here and remind me of that other game in 2006 when he didn’t take the bat off his shoulder, I’ll point out that I was there, too. I was there, Box 761, Row A, Seats 3 & 4. I was there, hanging over the rail in the first row of the upper deck, holding my breath and hoping and praying with the rest of you. But that was not all Carlos Beltran was, and that was not all he brought to the team. If you can’t see that, I offer you this diagram of facts and figures over at Amazin’ Avenue. But if you can’t see that, all the facts and figures in the world probably won’t matter, and I will tell you to go call WFAN and tell someone who cares.

Now I need to find someone to buy me a Giants shirt with #15 on the back.

Vaya con Dios, Carlos.

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