The redemptive beauty of Carlos Beltran

I feel like a little kid, honestly. I was smiling. I never smile a lot, but I was smiling. I was happy. It was great.

- Carlos Beltran.

Carlos Beltran hit three home runs last night.

Here’s what I wrote the day before the season opened:

I want Carlos Beltran to hit 100 home runs this year.

I would gladly withstand the inevitable obnoxious cries of “contract year” to watch that unfold. Beltran is aging — has aged — before our eyes, and seeing him struggle to stay on the field and productive over the past couple of years strikes me as a terrifying reminder of our universal mortality. Carlos Beltran, despite what we may have once believed, is human. And the baseball lifespan of a baseball player is depressingly short. Beltran is 33 — just a few years older than me — and for him to even enjoy a season anything like the ones he put up in his “prime” years would amount to triumphing over the effects of time.

Can you imagine how frightening it must be to have the same body that made you an exceptional professional athlete begin to break down by the time you’re 32? And I know Carlos Beltran makes a gajillion dollars are year and we shouldn’t pity him. But do you really think it’s all about money for most Major Leaguers? Do you think only the allure of riches drives Beltran to endure surgeries and train tirelessly and shoulder the ridiculous never-ending cavalcade of nonsense?

I find that hard to believe.

So I want Carlos Beltran to hit 100 home runs this season. I want that because I’m a Mets fan who loves home runs and spectacle, and because I am also not immune to aging. It’d be nice to get a reminder that despite the odds, despite the pain, despite the awful things we all will inevitably withstand as part and parcel of being a human on planet Earth, we still have time to be great.

He’s not quite on the 100 home-run pace, even after the thin-air outburst last night. But on the season Beltran has a .295/.388/.590 line, almost identical to the one he posted in his best offensive season in 2006, his MVP caliber year, when he was but 29 years old, the season he helped carry the Mets to the NL East pennant before… well, you know.

Isn’t it just the most beautiful thing?

Not the aesthetics of it, though those are plenty awesome to behold — Beltran’s elegant, understated swing, absent of excess movements, just a turn of the hips and a bat through the zone.

I mean the big-picture beauty: This man, still young in real-life years but getting up there in baseball age, obviously proud, once transcendentally great, after surrendering his position to a younger and now more athletic protege, coming out of the gate crushing the ball like he did before the surgeries and arthritis and the he-said-they-said dramas wore thin his cartilage and reputation.

Someone will spring up now and say: Trade him! Trade him while he’s healthy! Get prospects before he goes into the tank!

Whatever. Maybe they should. Who cares?

This isn’t about that. Look at what’s happening: This is triumphant stuff. Celebrate this.

Indulge me for a moment: I have whined several times in the past weeks here and elsewhere about some back pain. You might not know this about me, but I am not prone to complain about my health. I actually once played two weeks of middle-school football with a broken rib.

But this nagging ache, just to the right of my spine spreading out over my shoulder blade and bleeding down my right arm into my fingers — it’s a symptom of some pretty heavy health issues. And the combination of the pain itself and the drugs I take to combat it make it difficult to focus on just about anything except an awful spiral of self-pity and fruitless existential nonsense. And I’m not looking for sympathy or trying to burden you; this isn’t about that.

This is the opposite of that. Maybe I’m overreacting to a single performance by my favorite player or maybe I’m delirious from a couple weeks of limited sleep, and the last thing I want to do is drift into the type of motivational-speaker you-can-do-it dreck I normally despise.

But Carlos Beltran reminds me to keep pushing. We’ve all got problems, but, like I said before the season, we’ve all still got time.

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