Adrian Beltre wasn’t always so at ease on the major league diamond. The playful Beltre that is on display on a nightly basis — you saw his latest interaction with his good friend Felix Hernandez, right? — took a few years and some major league skins on the wall to show itself.
And even then, losing (and losing a ton with the Mariners), often dampened any outward shows of having fun.
At age 39 and game No. 2,896 played — tied with Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson for 14th all-time — any concerns about being misunderstood by teammates or fans have long since faded. It’s one of the virtues of being “baseball old.”
Beltre spoke in the clubhouse before the Rangers’ series opener Thursday at Yankee Stadium, perhaps wondering if it’s not entirely out of the question that it’s his last trip to the Bronx as a player.
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“I know I’m at a stage right now where any day I can go pack my bag and go home and be happy so I try to enjoy it because I don’t know when it’s going to be my last time,” said Beltre, who went 0 for 4 in the Rangers’ 7-3 loss.
Don’t panic, Rangers fans. Beltre wasn’t signaling retirement. He was just being honest about the vagaries of health at his age.
“As a player, we have to find a way to adapt to the body given to you and find a way to stay afloat with the young-uns and find a way to compete and win ballgames,” he said. “Bartolo [Colon] throws 85-86 but he finds a way to compete.”
He still loves it, of course, and enjoys sharing his enjoyment on the field, whether it’s mixing it up with Elvis Andrus on the left side of the infield, moving on-deck circles to get a better view of the pitcher, pretending to catch a broken bat that came flying toward him at third, or flashing his “dancing legs” after holding off on a close pitch.
“It’s always nice to find a way to enjoy what you do. Nobody is forcing me to be here,” he said. “If you enjoy what you do and have fun and play the game right and are giving it your all, then sometimes it comes out.”
After coming up with the Dodgers in 1998, Beltre found it hard to truly be himself as he navigated the majors. By the time he was with the Mariners, he was comfortable enough with his own game to more readily let his love show on the field.
“Sometimes it’s difficult, if a team is losing or you’re not doing well, sometimes it’s difficult to stay positive and have fun but I try my best,” he said.
Sometimes it’s just not appropriate. After homering against Hernandez in the sixth inning on Tuesday, Beltre chose not to respond with any good-natured antics with his friend, out of respect for the struggles Hernandez is having of late on the mound.
“Under different circumstances, yes, I would have done something,” he said. “Because of what transpired in the moment, I don’t think that was appropriate for me to do anything.”
Prior to the homer, Hernandez grinned playfully after Beltre swung and missed awkwardly on a breaking ball. Hernandez asked Beltre why he didn’t give him the business during his home run trot via a postgame text.
“Yeah, he should have danced and whatever he did, he laughed. Yeah, it was funny,” Beltre said. “I don’t want to disrespect him or his teammates or anybody because I don’t think it was appropriate for me to do anything in that moment.”