“I did it,” he said.
And, fittingly, as is so regularly the case when it comes to Adrian Beltre, it was mind-blowing at the same time as it made absolutely perfect sense:
He did it on Cooperstown Day.
Adrian Beltre does things effortlessly and steadily, dutifully and with workmanlike reliability — but there’s something iconic in nearly every moment he gives us.
There’s nobody like him. Never has been. Never will be. He’s one of those that epitomizes the cliché that you can’t fully appreciate what he brings unless you get to see him play every day — and we do.
There was never really any question, especially as his time with the Rangers has played out, that Beltre was not only a Hall of Fame talent but would also accomplish enough to earn Hall of Fame recognition, eventually. That five-year waiting period may start in a little more than a year, or a little more than two, or, if you ask Michael Young, a little further down the road than that: “Congrats, AB . . . Can’t wait to be in the crowd for your 1st ballot induction to the HOF in about 15 years.”
Mike wasn’t suggesting Adrian’s gonna lack the votes for a while. He was suggesting something else.
And here’s the thing. As tough as Adrian Beltre is, physically and as a competitor, and as resilient as he is and intimidating as he is to those paid to write and talk about his greatness, which is his least favorite subject, he’s a kid.
A 38- (not 39-) year-old kid, in some degree of contrast to the “little kid with a big dream” that Pudge Rodriguez, minutes before Beltre rifled the milestone double down the third base line, summoned 30-year-old memories to describe.
He plays with a smile on his face and with happy feet and patty-cake hands and with a passion for the game that comes across so plainly as joy, more so than any pro athlete that I can think of.
He’s a leader and a tone-setter, but in that mix he’s a kid, and in that way, among others, he makes baseball better.
Who can do the things that Adrian has done on his way to 3,000 hits and 450 home runs and 600 doubles and 1,600 RBI and five Gold Gloves?
The arm angles.
The routinely flat-footed, sidearm, 125-foot throws to first that strike the “X” in “TEXAS.”
The fact that he charged all the way to 3,000 at a level of play that I just can’t imagine too many of the 30 who came before him did.
He’s a freak. He’s our freak.
But he’s a freak.
I mean, c’mon.
There he is, trash-talking with King Felix and grinning at umpires and glaring at teammates who dare contemplate a touch to the head, and all the while Adrian Beltre is, without a shred of doubt, the quintessential leader.
Like Michael before him, not because he claimed the role, but because it claimed him.
In as many ways as his game and his approach to it might be unique and inimitable, he also sets an example and a tone with a presence that teammates, both new to the big leagues and as veteran as he is, and coaches and club executives feed off of.
Jeff Banister, 15 years older than Beltre but, until two years ago, just an observer across the field if not connected only by television feeds, said of his third baseman yesterday: “He means so much to this organization and this team. He’s a mentor to every single player, coach. There are things I learn every single day from him that are irreplaceable.”
We can probably agree that he’s one of those types who not only makes players around him better, but does so in ways that last.
Such an incredible moment Sunday afternoon, one that he was fairly clear in advance he just wanted to get to and put behind him, but about which he would say, once the game was over:
“What happened today after the hit has been the best moment in my life. I didn’t know how to feel because I had no idea what was going on. I thought they were coming to hug me, but they just passed me and went into right field. It was a nice moment. I saw the joy in their faces, and a lot of things you do in your career you do for your kids and your family. My kids and my wife have been so supportive over the years, that this moment was for them. When I saw that, I felt like I was on a cloud, because I really saw the joy in their faces.”
Seconds after number 29, on the 30th of the month and as the game’s 31st hitter, turned on a 3–0 fastball, middle in, there was one family rushing towards him, with a “joy in their faces” that they certainly come by honestly.
Another family in back of him, gathered behind the back of the man who always has theirs, and it was the best moment of his life, if one that he’d sort of looked forward to just getting past.
“For the first time in my career,” Beltre would add after the game, “I got goosebumps.”
The rock, the paragon of stability, in the middle.
On a cloud.
Not an unfamiliar thing, that cloud and those goosebumps, to so many who have been around him, even if just for a few seconds out of a lifetime.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably justified in feeling a little uneasy about your kids looking up to ballplayers, elevating them to role model status. The ability to hit a baseball 500 feet or jump out of the gym or run through and past other world-class athletes sometimes obscures the bad stuff.
But not always.
Beltre has battled through so much, even when you get past the absurdities like playing with an attached colostomy bag — in spring training — and another instance that involves the word “rupture” that, as a male, I just assume not elaborate on.
But about that moment depicted above.
In a 2015 ALDS series between Texas and Toronto that featured a number of moments that hardcore Rangers fans would like to forget but probably can’t, the thing I will remember most is a man whose back had seized up so badly in the first inning of Game 1 that any of us would have been unwilling to chance getting out of bed, but instead Adrian Beltre slowly walked to the plate in the top of the third, with two outs and a man on second, refusing to betray the excruciating pain by showing David Price or any of his Blue Jays teammates or coaches anything close to the level of physical trouble he was in.
“You can’t walk,” said the manager.
“I’m not coming out of this game,” said the player.
Had Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar realized how immobilized Beltre was, he would have gathered the 0–1 laser shot up the middle and thrown it to first base rather than the plate, on as many hops as needed or with enough air under it that it hugged the Rogers Centre roof, and the inning would have ended without Delino DeShields’s arrival at the plate making a 1–0 Texas lead a 2–0 margin. Beltre had to fight every bodily “NO” to make the 90-foot journey to first base, but he made it, and the run counted, and then his manager and trainer met him on the field and there were tears, yes, even from him, and someone took that photograph, which still gives me the sads today, even though Texas won that baseball game, 5–3.
Beltre couldn’t talk his way into the lineup for Game 2, also a Texas win. There was no sense in pushing things in Game 3, with the Rangers moving the series home for two games (if necessary) and needing only one win out of, at most, three remaining games to advance.
The Rangers lost Game 3. Beltre was in the lineup for Game 4.
He singled in his first two at-bats, because he’s Adrian Beltre, and I’m not going to talk about the rest of that series, because this is about Adrian Beltre and not about anything else.
You and I would have still been laid up in bed.
Maybe the umpire shouldn’t have called that ball . . . because maybe I swung.
And maybe that umpire was right — maybe there’s a rule that says I actually do need to stand on the on-deck circle. Hold my barrel weight.
(As WFAA’s Levi Weaver said so perfectly: “He is the cops, and he is the mischief.”)
And he is a gift.
That painting is never coming down from the wall it’s on, or another wall that outlasts it, and with that maybe I’m trying to make a point, Adrian.
You can’t leave, AB.
Even if every youth team in North Texas may not have an Ayden and a Kayden and a Jayden (though they do all have two) — every youth team here has a 29.
They all do.
It’s the number my kid chose, years ago, and he’s not planning to let it go.
Adrian Beltre is baseball.
At least here, thanks in no small part to Cliff and to Arte and to JD and ownership, but really, not just here.
Speaking of numbers, I could throw a bunch at you, statistics that have engraved Beltre’s ticket to the place where the Rangers’ most dynamic, exciting, adrenalizing, jaw-dropping player ever stood Sunday, earning entry into the game’s uppermost individual echelon six or seven or 15 years before the franchise’s next most dynamic, exciting, adrenalizing, jaw-dropping player will join him.
I could pile up another stack of quotes and anecdotes about Beltre’s toughness and how he plays the game the right way, routinely defying trainers and logic and age.
Or more iconic photos and video clips of the unique joy that he plays the Great Game with, and that he evokes in us, with every pop fly between third base and short and every genuflected swing and every check swing and every head tap and every toe tap on the bag and flat-footed, sidearm, 63-foot, 7–11/16-inch throw to the mound (velo: 101) to complete the relay around the horn and every what-is-he-doing-with-his-feet moment of awesomeness.
Or of the exquisite artistry with which he defends.
Or the will that drives him in this game, and the level of respect he has for it, and it for him.
I could wax, all fired up, about his mindset as we arrive, coldly, a day after his historic achievement, at today’s Trade Deadline: “Glad I got to do it at home. Wish I could have done it in a win. Now I’m looking forward to trying to get this team in the playoffs.”
It’s not the right thing, under the totality of circumstance, for the front office to be thinking.
It’s the only thing a player should be thinking.
Adrian’s probably thinking about Luc this morning, because that’s a guy he went to battle with, a brother, and he’s likely giving some thought about what could be ahead today for Yu, and maybe Nap and Cash and Kela — but probably not Jeffress because Adrian’s mindset is Hey, JJ’ll get through this — but you can bet all of that trails the thoughts in his head about tonight’s enemy King Felix, that bastage, and Skip better not even think about giving me a day off.
Let’s catch Houston.
He’s never been traded, and won’t be today.
He’s never won a World Series, and won’t this year.
But he isn’t about to concede anything, and isn’t about to let his teammates think that way, either.
The helmet that he wears so low that you wonder if he can even see past it, maybe it’s emblematic of his singular focus as a ballplayer, a teammate, a competitor.
Adrian Beltre sets the tone.
He is baseball.
* * *
Baseball cards are for kids. But if you let them, and find a program that lets you design some, maybe even in the styles of some of those cards you grew up with, they can grab the kid in you long after the calendar says you don’t belong in that demo. If you’ve got a blog and a lack of restraint, you might just go to town and work up a dozen of those, maybe more, and dump them on an email distribution list that didn’t ask and that might have preferred an entry this morning about what could be a watershed trade deadline for this franchise this afternoon, or nothing at all.
Baseball cards are for kids.
So is Adrian Beltre.
And nobody in this game, or in any other that I have ever known, makes me feel more sure of the fact that I, to this day and at least as long as Number 29 is putting that uniform on because it gives him joy — but not only him — am still, very much and very happily, a kid.