Adrian Beltre keeps hinting at retirement, which is completely understandable and completely unfortunate.
Understandable, because Beltre is 39 years old and is again bothered by leg issues that sent him to the disabled list four times in the last two years. While he keeps saying he won't decide about 2019 until the 2018 season ends, the words "go home" and "goodbye" keep creeping into his interviews.
Unfortunate, because even if Beltre is old by baseball standards, his spirit is still young by any standard. Whether it's his happy feet in the batter's box, his darts into the outfield when caught in a rundown or his shared laughs with umpires or opponents, no one in the game is quirkier.
At a time when so many are saying baseball has become hard to watch, who is easier to watch than the Texas Rangers third baseman?
You want to make baseball fun? Check out Beltre and Elvis Andrus, his Rangers sidekick.
"We're two grown men with a kid's soul," Andrus said.
They play the game so professionally that no old-school traditionalist could complain. But they play it with enough eccentricity that on any given night they could be trending on social media.
A routine pop-up turns into performance art on the left side of the Rangers infield, with both Beltre and Andrus setting up as if to catch it. Don't worry. One of them will get it. The other will go into a pantomime act and perhaps a display that convinces some on the internet there's real anger.
Did you see the time Beltre took a ball Andrus thought was his, and Andrus responded by drawing a literal line in the dirt? Did you see the one where Andrus came a little close, and Beltre responded by pretending to throw the ball right at his teammate? Or the one where Beltre slapped Andrus away with his glove before making the catch?
"It's like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball," said Dave Raymond, who chronicles it all as the Texas Rangers' television voice. "Half the time, I want our [producers] to roll out with 'Sweet Georgia Brown' going into the break. Adrian is Meadowlark Lemon, and Elvis is Curly Neal."
No, Beltre insists. It's not the Globetrotters.
"What they do is show," he said.
What those Globetrotters did was all show, with a little basketball mixed in. Meadowlark, remember, was the "Clown Prince of Basketball."
Beltre is no clown. He's fun, he's quirky, but he's also a 21-year major leaguer with a resume that should send him to the Hall of Fame. He shows total respect for the game, and the game gives it right back. There may be no current player more respected by teammates and opponents alike.
"People need to know how hard he's worked on the fundamentals," said Rangers bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who was Beltre's manager in 2009 and 2010 with the Seattle Mariners. "This guy's one of the best players in the game."
Fine, but people also need to know about the other things Beltre does, the ones MLB.com highlighted in a hilarious video that runs more than eight minutes.
They need to see what Rangers general manager Jon Daniels witnesses every spring, when Beltre stands in the batter's box and calls balls and strikes himself. Or asks the home plate umpire to check with his colleague at first base to confirm Beltre's own check swing.
"No! No! No!" he'll yell after taking a pitch just off the plate.
"Every once in a while you get a young umpire who doesn't know him and looks in the dugout and glares," Daniels said.
The umpires who know Beltre understand he's doing nothing to show them up. He never does. He never would.
"I always draw a line," he said.
He learned where to draw that line early on in the big leagues, after he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as a 19-year-old in 1998, in an era when rookies were expected to be seen and not heard.
Look at a YouTube video of Beltre's first major league hit, and the first thing you notice is it's not in HD (HD broadcasts had only just begun that season). The second thing you see is that Beltre never cracks a smile, even as he pulls into second base with a run-scoring double.
It took three or four years, he said, before he felt comfortable showing emotion. Little by little, he allowed his personality to come out.
Even now, he turns it on and off, careful to understand the flow of the game and the feelings of a teammate or opponent.
When he struck out on an awkward swing early in an Aug. 7 game against former teammate Felix Hernandez, Beltre was more than willing to share a laugh with Hernandez as he walked back to the dugout. When he homered off Hernandez to make it 11-4 Rangers in the sixth inning, there were no smiles as he quietly and quickly circled the bases.
Hernandez later texted Beltre asking why he hadn't made any kind of gesture. But Beltre wasn't going to kick an opponent who was down. There would be a response, but not right then.
"Next time, if it's close, I will," he promised.
Beltre's celebrations can also go viral, in large part because he has a thing about being touched on the head. Most modern baseball celebrations involve just that, and it's wild to watch Beltre enjoying the moment while also trying hard to avoid any unwanted contact.
"I don't touch his head, ever," teammate Joey Gallo said. "I don't have enough time in. Elvis can get away with it."
Andrus gets away with plenty. He's become the perfect foil for Beltre, and both players have benefited. While the Rangers sometimes worried early in Andrus' career that he didn't have the same on-off switch Beltre has, now they seem to operate in sync.
"We have fun, and that's when we do the best," Andrus said. "We really have a passion for the game, and that's what attracted me to baseball in the first place: to be able to do something for hours and hours and still have fun with it. That's what I love about this game."
The pop-up show is what he and Beltre are best known for. Sometimes when they both line up with their gloves above their heads, even teammates and coaches can't tell for sure which one is about to catch the ball.
"I think that started in my second year," Andrus said. "I'm the shortstop, and I'm supposed to be in charge. But then you play with someone like him, and he wants to take some of those."
They don't plan any of it out, Andrus insists. And no, they don't really get mad at each other.
"People always ask me that; if he's really mad," Andrus said.
"Sometimes Elvis is annoying," Beltre said, playing along with the storyline. But then he grinned.
"[Beltre] is never actually really mad at anyone," Gallo said. "He's fake-mad a lot."
Beltre usually bats cleanup for the Rangers, and Gallo has often batted fifth. So he gets to watch one of the best shows in baseball from close up.
"I'll be in the on-deck circle," Gallo said. "And I can't stop laughing during his at-bats."
It's not all comedy. Beltre's production has faded this season with age and sore legs—his .723 OPS would be his lowest for a full season since 2009—but his career numbers remain Cooperstown-worthy.
His 469 home runs are second-most among active players behind Albert Pujols. Beltre is also second to Pujols in doubles (627), RBI (1,687) and wins above replacement (95.1), as calculated by Baseball Reference.
And first among laughs and smiles generated, as unofficially calculated by Bleacher Report. Has any player in the history of the game done more things that made you smile, grin or simply laugh out loud?
Watch when a tight call goes against him, and you might see Beltre laughing with the umpire. Watch when he's in a rundown he knows he can't get out of. He might turn and run into the outfield or into the middle of the infield.
"Those 13-year-old moments," Rangers manager Jeff Banister calls them. "Those comic-relief moments. It's supposed to be fun. It's still a kid's game played by grown-ups."
The bits of levity have been especially welcome this year. The Rangers have spent much of the season in last place in the American League West, stuck with a starting rotation that has seen them trailing after the third inning in 51 of their 72 losses.
Beltre has still found a way to enjoy it.
"I don't think he's ever had a bad day at the ballpark," Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail said. "He's ultra-fun. It's playful and fun, and it keeps guys from insanity."
They know how fortunate they are to be around him, and how great it has been to watch him.
"It's a privilege for us to grow up with him," said 25-year-old Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar.
They know it could be over soon if Beltre's body tells him this is time to call it a career. He has already said he wouldn't want to play for any team but the Rangers in 2019, but there's a possibility he won't even play for them.
He deserves the chance to make that call. Everyone else just wants the chance to share a laugh with him one more time.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Stats are accurate as of Aug. 22 and provided by Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
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