Since Carlos Beltran signed his seven-year free agent contract prior to the 2005 season, Mets fans have been divisive over the All-Star outfielder. The fans who like him appreciate his contributions both at the plate and in the field. The fans who have been counting down the days until his departure will never forget (and are quick to point out) his subpar 2005 season, his final at-bat of the 2006 season and his injury-plagued 2009 and 2010 seasons.
I do not hide which group I am a part of. I am a Carlos Beltran fan. It even says so on the MMO Staff Page. But I have a deeper connection to him than most fans. It’s time to get a little personal here, so bear with me.
Carlos Beltran grew up in Manatí, Puerto Rico. I am also of Puerto Rican descent, with my parents, grandparents, and most of my ancestors born, raised and (mostly) still living in the town of Cabo Rojo (about 90 miles southwest of Manatí). I’ve gone through the town of Manatí on the way to and from the airport. What are the living conditions like there? Let’s just say that if the houses were built with Tinkertoys, they’d probably be sturdier. This is where Carlos Beltran grew up. This is where he became the man he is today.
Unemployment is rampant is Manatí. As recently as 2009, nearly 20% of the town’s population was unemployed. It was around that time that Carlos Beltran, perhaps Manatí’s most cherished son, decided he was going to do something about it. Through his foundation, he began work on the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy. The academy will create jobs and will provide an opportunity for its students to succeed in athletics and in the classroom. Therefore, even if the students don’t become professional athletes, they will have the ability to use their education to find jobs more suited to them. In essence, the academy is beneficial to everyone in the community, both now and in the future.
When I was a child, I used to visit my family in Puerto Rico every summer. It was there that I learned all about the legacy of Roberto Clemente. His play on the field inspired the youth of a poor nation to pick up a bat, ball and glove (or what passed for those items) and his humanitarian efforts off the field inspired those same children to be better people once they put down their baseball equipment.
Needless to say, Roberto Clemente is a beloved figure in Puerto Rico. The late Hall of Famer has baseball stadiums named after him on the island he called home, but his name also appears on highways, hospitals, etc. I was born in the short time period between the day he collected his 3,000th hit off the Mets’ Jon Matlack (Sept. 30, 1972) and the day he was killed in a plane crash while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua (Dec. 31, 1972).
For as long as I can remember, I have been told stories by my baseball-obsessed uncle about the great Roberto Clemente. As time went by, other baseball players from Puerto Rico became great players in the majors as well, such as Carlos Delgado, Ivan Rodriguez and this year’s newest Hall of Fame inductee, Roberto Alomar, and my uncle’s conversations shifted from Roberto Clemente to those players. But anytime I asked him which player reminded him the most of Clemente, both on and off the field, he’d always give me the same answer. Carlos Beltran.
There will be never another Roberto Clemente. But there are athletes who have learned from his example and have chosen to follow in his footsteps. They might represent the difference between a win and a loss on the field, but they make an even bigger difference to people off the field. Carlos Beltran is one of those athletes.
Carlos Beltran has been an All-Star caliber player for many years, putting him in the public spotlight for his exploits on the field. He has used his baseball celebrity status to help many people in need, both in New York (through the Harlem RBI program and City Harvest) and in his native Puerto Rico. If/when he is traded to another team, you can be sure he’ll establish a bond with that city’s community as well, providing services to those who are most in need of assistance.
That’s Carlos Beltran’s way, the way it was Roberto Clemente’s way. It’s why my uncle speaks as highly of Beltran as he did of Clemente. Carlos Beltran is a man of the people. Whether those people live in Manatí or another community, they will always have someone looking out for them, someone who hasn’t let his celebrity get to his head, someone who has taken his millions and invested it in the future of those who would otherwise have a difficult time helping themselves.
Like many other players, Carlos Beltran might have a defensive lapse every once in a while and he may strike out when a big hit is needed. But to many less fortunate people, Carlos Beltran has yet to strike out. So if you’re one of those Met fans who can’t wait to see him go, allow me to leave you with my uncle’s words, which I will translate into English for you.
“Carlos Beltran is a difference maker. A baseball team is better when he’s on it. A community is better when he’s a part of it. I’m proud to be a fan of Carlos Beltran.”
My uncle is a wise man.