PEORIA, Ariz. -- Looking back, Adrian Beltre has no regrets. He called signing with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2011 season "the best decision so far in my career."
The Rangers were just as pleased.
Beltre had a memorable first season with Texas, winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. He batted .296 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs, and "saved" 17 runs on defense, according to The Fielding Bible. All of that came in just 124 regular-season games after spending more than five weeks on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain.
Beltre didn't slow down in the postseason, either. He hit three home runs vs. Tampa Bay in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, the series-clinching victory for Texas. Then he had the memorable home run in Game 5 of the World Series in which he finished with one knee on the ground. The following game, Beltre homered again.
Going into his second season with the Rangers, Beltre is looking to build off his first-year success. The No. 1 priority for him this season is to remain healthy, and play in at least 152 games as he has in seven of his 13 big league seasons.
"He's a big part of our club -- offensively, defensively and as a leader," said manager Ron Washington, who will use Beltre in the cleanup spot this season.
"He keeps everyone together, everyone loose. He doesn't let anyone take anything for granted. During the season, he shows up every day not only to play, but to beat you. That stuff rubs off."
Similarly, the winning atmosphere the Rangers have created in recent years rubbed off on Beltre. Beltre didn't have the pressure to carry the offense, as he was surrounded by offensive threats throughout the lineup.
"Sometimes confidence makes the player a lot better," Beltre said. "You don't have to be the guy.
"When you have a good offensive ballclub, anybody can beat you any given day and it makes it easier for you to relax."
Before he arrived in Texas, Beltre had been labeled as a contract year player. In 2004, his final year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he posted career highs in average (.334), home runs (48) and RBIs (121).
That landed him a five-year, $64 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.
He didn't put up the offensive numbers that might have been expected after his '04 season, but he still won a pair of Gold Gloves with the Mariners.
Beltre isn't sure why he struggled in Seattle, but Safeco Field is known as a pitchers' park.
"A lot of people say the stadium but I'm not really sure if it's the stadium," Beltre said. "I had a couple years in Seattle that were OK, not great. But that's baseball, it changes year to year. I'm just glad I've been more consistent that last couple of years, that's what I've been working on."
After signing a one-year, $9 million deal with the Red Sox for the 2010 season, Beltre re-established himself by hitting an AL-high 49 doubles with 28 home runs and 102 RBIs.
He then came to the Rangers on a six-year, $96 million deal. The Rangers viewed the signing as improving the pitching, as well, because of Beltre's sure hands at third base.
"It's awesome to know you can throw a guy inside because if they turn on it, Adrian is going to be there to pick it," Matt Harrison said. "You know he's going to make the play 99 times out of 100."
As for Beltre, he couldn't be more pleased with his choice.
"There's no doubt, signing with the Rangers is the best decision so far in my career," Beltre said. "Coming to a good ballclub that's committed to winning, and being in a clubhouse that everyone pulls for each other and has fun, I can't ask for more.
"It's not fun to compete when you know you don't have a good team to compete with. But when you're leaving home and going to the ballpark and you're looking forward to being there, it makes a difference."
Drew Davison, (817) 390-7760