In a performance that reminded baseball fans of his breathtaking natural ability, New York Mets' switch-hitting right fielder Carlos Beltran stroked three home runs against the Colorado Rockies last night -- two from the left side of the plate and one from the right.
Beltran, now 34 years old, has struggled mightily with injuries the past couple of years. Twelve seasons of graceful-but-taxing play in center field took a serious toll on his legs, resulting in personal and fan frustration throughout the 2009 and 2010 MLB campaigns.
A player who was once a franchise center fielder with all-world ability is now an aging right fielder in the final year of his long-term contract with the Mets.
While David Wright and Jose Reyes continue to be Flushing's poster boys, Beltran continues to solidify his legacy as one of the most under-appreciated players in the history of New York baseball.
Beltran, who ranks in the top 10 in Mets history in runs scored, doubles, home runs, runs batted in, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, is remembered most for taking a filthy Adam Wainwright curveball for strike three in game seven of the 2006 NLCS.
A player who is one of the top two or three defensive Mets of all time is and has been shunned for one, single at bat.
One at bat of a postseason series in which he batted .296/.387/.667 with three home runs. A series in which he carried New York's offense alongside first baseman Carlos Delgado.
But few seem to remember that. They only seem to remember Beltran locking up as that vicious, 12-six bender dropped perfectly into the strike zone.
And to this inconsequential writer and fan, that's a damn shame. I'm even willing to say that I feel bad for Beltran.
This is where the garden variety fan says, "Don't feel bad for him -- he makes millions of dollars to play a kid's game."
But those of us who bleed baseball know it's not that simple. Those of us who have followed the Mets intently know that Beltran has wanted to win, and wants to win, as much or more than any other player in that clubhouse.
Baseball is his livelihood. It's what he knows better than anything. To think that money will always ease the pain of failure is to undervalue the importance of the game.
There is an extremely high probability that Beltran is going to be traded before the conclusion of the 2011 MLB season. Seven years in a Mets uniform and not a single trip to the World Series.
A core that had so much potential, never lived up to it. Carlos Beltran, the baseball player, is going to have to deal with that for the remainder of his under-appreciated career.
Carlos Beltran, the man, may have to deal with that for the rest of his life.
...One damn pitch.
John Frascella is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land," the first and only book centered on Boston's popular GM Theo Epstein. Follow John on Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.