In another hotel ballroom Monday at another All-Star Game media day amid the American League’s best players, Adrian Beltre played the role of his manager.
It’s been Ron Washington who has been drilled on a daily basis about the state of the Texas Rangers, the injury-wrecked preseason playoff contenders who have morphed into a development phase.
Beltre fielded similar questions from media from across the country, who were essentially asking, “What happened?”
“It’s been tough because we did not expect to have the team we have now,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault. We didn’t expect all the injuries.”
Yet Beltre, on the major league’s worst team, is one of the major league’s best hitters as the owner of the second-best average in baseball (.337) and the best in the American League.
He’s also one of the game’s most respected players who now has the task of guiding a group of not-ready-for-primetime players through the final 67 games of a season that is getting worse by the day.
Beltre says he is up for the task. He’d better be.
“I try to be the best example I can,” Beltre said. “When I came up, I tried to see how the veterans do things so I could catch the good things. I try to do the same.
“In the clubhouse I try to be the leader by showing how to do things. If there’s something I know I should step up and tell them, I’ll do that because I know those guys are looking for guidance.”
Washington and the coaches have been told they aren’t being judged by wins and losses the rest of the season but by how hard the team plays and how much players have advanced.
Count Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin and Neftali Feliz in that group along with rookies Rougned Odor, Michael Choice, Nick Martinez, Roman Mendez and Matt West. Might-as-well-be-rookies like Miles Mikolas and whoever else might have a future in the organization need to move forward, too.
Beltre’s No. 1 job the rest of the season is making sure the young players don’t quit. Washington and his coaching staff, of course, have a role in that, but the words of a potential future Hall of Famer sometimes can carry more weight.
“I take pride in trying to prepare them for the big leagues and give them chances to succeed,” Beltre said. “There are some situations where you can see a young guy not doing what’s he supposed to do because we’re losing by 10 or eight. It’s our job as veteran guys to pull them aside and tell them, ‘It doesn’t matter by how we’re playing right now. You have to do this like this and this like that.’ ”
Even as the Rangers were losing eight straight and 22 of 25 to enter the All-Star break, Beltre was seeing effort.
“It’s not that the effort isn’t there,” he said. “We’re going through a phase of trying to win ballgames but at the same time teach them how to be professional and how to be a team player, not quitting and not thinking that because we’re losing 5-0 or 5-2 or 7-2 in the fourth inning the game is over.
“Instead of having three or four young guys, you have probably 15. Yes, you have to make sure they’re doing things right. When you’re losing, things pop up more. In those cases, you have to make sure we’re not making excuses for why we are losing.”
Beltre hasn’t been making excuses. If anything, he’s been shouldering the blame for the hot-and-cold offense even when the pitching staff has been giving up runs in droves.
Washington keeps calling Beltre the consummate professional who shows up with a job to do and does it no matter how well or how poorly his team is playing.
“When he steps on the field, he’s all business,” said Miguel Cabrera, the reigning two-time American League MVP. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen. You see the way he plays, defense and offense. He’s a complete player. When I grow up I want to be like him.”
As the Rangers continue their fade to the worst record, don’t expect Beltre to fade.
“It just shows his character and what kind of person he is and how hard he works at the game and how strong he is mentally,” former teammate Ian Kinsler said. “The word ‘professional’ encompasses all of that, but it’s a tribute to his character and how focused he is.”