ADRIAN BELTRE

The Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, as of this morning, had 2,999 career base hits and was on the verge of becoming the 31st player in history to surpass the 3,000 hit mark. Earlier this year, he became the 21st player with 5,000 total bases and hit his 450th homer, the 39th player to reach that level. After going 1-4 last night, he had 5,039 total bases, with 454 homers and was hitting .310.

Although he had some physical problems, including a quad strain, that caused him to miss April and most of May this year, he shows no sign of slowing down at 38. He is one of the few active players in baseball who is assured of a place in the Hall of Fame.

In my latest book, THE BASEBALL BUFF’S BATHROOM BOOK, VOLUME III, I included the following article about the career of this talented, dedicated, personable professional and, given his coming up on the 3,000 hit milestone, I used it this week as my weekly column in the Biddeford Journal Tribune and include it here.

ADRIAN BELTRE

Ordinarily, but not always, I try to limit articles about individual players in this series to players who have retired or left baseball for some other reason. In the case of Adrian Beltre, I have made an exception for two reasons. The first is that Beltre, although he turned 38 on April 7, 2017, may still be playing long after I have stopped writing these books. The second is that Adrian Beltre enjoys playing the game of baseball more than almost any player I have ever seen and that is why he may still be playing long after I have stopped writing these books.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed him as a Free Agent, with a $23,000. bonus, in July of 1994. He didn’t start playing in the Dodger’s Minor League system until 1996 because he had only been 15 years old when he signed. In 1999, after a doctored birth certificate was found, it was revealed that the Dodgers had signed him while he was under the legal age of 16. Major League Baseball awarded Beltre damages although the Dodgers claimed to be unaware he had been under age.

When he did start to play, at the ripe old age of barely 17, he split the season between Savannah of the Class A South Atlantic League and San Bernardino of the Class A+ California League, batting .284 in 131 games, hitting 26 homers and driving in 99 runs.

The next year, 1997, he hit .317 with 26 homers and 104 RBI’s in 123 games with Class A, Vero Beach in the Florida State League. He started 1998 with San Antonio in the Class AA Texas League and was hitting .321 with 13 homers and 56 RBI’s in just 64 games.

He was promoted to the Dodgers and made his debut on June 24, 1998, the youngest player in the National League, playing third base and batting eighth against the Anaheim Angels in Dodger Stadium, In his first Major League at bat, in the second inning, against Chuck Finley, he hit a line drive double to left to score future White Sox great Paul Konerko to tie the score.

He played in 77 games the rest of that year, batting just .215 with seven homers and 22 RBI’s. From then through 2013, he batted between .240 and .290, playing almost exclusively at third base but filling in at short for a few games. The Dodgers finished third four times and second twice in his first six years.

In 2004, both he and the Dodgers had break out years. He hit .334, led the league in homers with 48, a career high, had 200 hits and 121 RBI’s. He finished second in the MVP voting behind Barry Bonds and won the Silver Slugger Award. The Dodgers won the Division, with a 93-69 re but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals three games to one in the NLDS. In the NLDS, Beltre was 4-15 for a .267 average.

He was a made Free Agent after the 2004, on October 28, season and, 13 days later, signed with the Seattle Mariners in the American League. In his first year in Seattle, his batting fell off to .255 and he had just 19 homers and 87 RBI’s. He played in 156 games for his fourth year of five consecutive years with over 150 games played.

From 2006 to 2008, he averaged between .268 and .276 and had 76 homers and 265 RBI’s, winning the Gold Glove in 2007 and 2008, as the Mariners finished fourth twice and second once. In 2009, his Free Agent year, he suffered a bruised groin when hit with a ground ball on August 13. He played in only 111 games, batted just .265 with eight homers and 44 RBI’s. Despite the off year, the Red Sox signed him, on January 4, 2010, to a one year contract for $9. million.

In Friendly Fenway, in 2010, he hit .321 with 28 homers, 102 RBI’s and led the league with 49 doubles. He had a .553 slugging percentage, made his first All Star Team and won the Silver Slugger as the Red Sox finished third.

He was a Free Agent again at the end of the season and signed a six year, $96. million deal with the Texas Rangers. In 2011, he hit .296 with 32 homers and 105 RBI’s to lead the Rangers to the AL West title with a 96-66 record. He made the All Star Team and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. In Game 4 of the ALDS, which the Rangers won 4-3 to beat the Rays, three games to one, he hit three solo homers, the first person in history to hit three in a Division Series game. He got lead off homers in the second and seventh and homered with one out in the fourth.

In the NLCS, which the Rangers won in six games over the Tigers, he went 6-27. In one of the most exciting World Series ever, the Rangers lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. He homered in the sixth inning of Game 5, to tie the game at 2-2 and the Rangers won, 4-2 to go up three games to two. In Game 6, with the game tied 4-4 going into the seventh inning, needing one more win to win the Series, Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back to back homers to lead off the inning and put the Rangers up 6-4, in a game they eventually lost 10-9. They then went on to lose Game 7 and the Series, 6-2.

In 2012, with Beltre batting .321, with 36 homers and 102 RBI’s. the Rangers finished in second place with a 93-69 record but lost to the Orioles in the Wild Card game, 5-1. Beltre went 0-4 in the Wild Card game but made the All Star Team again, won the Gold Glove and finished third in the MVP voting.

He hit .315 with 30 homers and 92 RBI’s in 2013 and led the league with 199 hits. In 2014, he hit .324, had 19 homers and 77 RBI’s, made the All Star Team and won the Silver Slugger. The Rangers finished in second in 2013 and fell to fifth in 2014.

Playing with a torn ligament in his left thumb for most of the 2015 season, he still hit .287 with 18 homers and 83 RBI’s as the Rangers won the Division again. They were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS and, despite ,dissing two games with a strained back, Beltre went 4-9 in the Series.

In 2016, after signing a two year contract extension for $36. million, which will keep him in Texas through the 2018 season, he batted an even .300 with 32 homers and 104 RBI’s and won another Gold Glove and led the Rangers to the playoffs again. When he signed the contract extension, he said ‘ I heard a lot about age and I should be declining but I don’t buy into it until I feel it. I feel like I’m 25. I feel great, my body feels great.’ Good news for the Rangers, bad news for the rest of the league.

After winning the Division with a 95-67 record, they were swept again in three games by the Blue Jays. Beltre went just 2-11 in the Series.

Going to a Ranger game and watching Beltre play is a rare pleasure. In addition to his exceptional ability, both fielding and hitting, he is the consummate little boy. He has made touching his head, which he claims drives him crazy, a game with other players. Other teams’ players who get to third base will often try to touch his head to see him react and, when he hits a home run, everybody on his own team has to try to touch his head and his reactions are priceless.

At the plate, he swings so hard that he often falls to one knee when completing his swing and has been known to hit home runs off that knee. At third base, his arm is so strong that he does not need to move his feet to throw a bullet to first base and he often throws flat footed.

At age 37, he is the leader of the Rangers on and off the field. As Mitch Moreland, who was traded to the Red Sox from the Rangers in 2016, after playing with Beltre, said, in a quote from the Boston Globe on February 18, 2017, ‘ He’s the guy you went to for everything, whether it was baseball or life. He’s got so much experience, always had the right thing to say. He was definitely our leader.’

As of the beginning of the 2017 season, in his 19 years in the Majors, he has batted .286, has 2,942 hits, 445 homers and 1,571 RBI’s. He has played in 2,720 games, more than any other third baseman except Brooks Robinson, who played in 2,896, and 29th among all players in history. Barring major injury, he seems sure to break 3,000 hits, 500 homers and pass Robinson for the most games played at third base.

His four Silver Sluggers, five Gold Gloves and two Platinum Gloves also testify to his all around ability. He has played more games, has more at bats and more plate appearances and more at bats than any other active player and ranks second to only Ichiro Suzuki in career hits by an active player. There is a place in the Hall of Fame waiting for this ever smiling, hard nosed competitor.

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