Exit Carlos Beltran

I started and scrapped this post a couple times. To be honest, I tried to pre-write it the way newspapers do with celebrity obituaries, though by the time I got around to actually doing so the news of Carlos Beltran’s trade had already started to leak out. And I meant to hold off on publishing it until the deal was made official, but now Beltran is out of the Mets’ lineup tonight and it sounds by all accounts like the announcement is a mere formality.

The first draft included an introduction explaining how real sadness is universal and comes in near-infinite supply, and how in that context Beltran’s departure is not really sad at all. But that’s patronizing. Presumably you know that sadness is a relative thing, and you can distinguish sadness for actual tragedies from the sadness we feel when a favorite baseball player is traded across the country to play out the final few months of his contract with a new team.

There’s no good reason to dwell on it now regardless. Any Mets fan paying attention the last couple of months has heard about and likely reasoned through Beltran’s being moved, a deal that makes a whole lot of sense for a club with little chance of a postseason berth in 2011.

In the trade with the Giants, Sandy Alderson reportedly scored Zack Wheeler, a young player better than the ones many – especially me – expected the Mets would get in return for Beltran. Wheeler is a Single-A pitcher so he’s still a ways off from contributing in the big leagues, but he’s a former first-round draft pick twice ranked in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects and with over 10 strikeouts per nine innings in the Minors.

And Beltran’s exit provides one final excuse to celebrate the man’s career in Flushing. In his tenure with the Mets, Beltran played 831 games. He hit 148 home runs, drove in 552 runs, stole 100 bases, and posted an .867 OPS. Statistically, his 2006 campaign stands among the very best seasons any position player has ever provided the club. He ranks in the team’s all time Top 10 of too many categories to bother listing.

That feels like it’s somehow understating it though, no?

Not long ago, a Kansas City Star reporter wrote, “If you want to know how to approach the game, teammates or life, watch Jeff Francoeur.” Though the author was merely upholding the rich journalistic tradition of writing ridiculous things about Jeff Francoeur, the comment rightfully inspired a ton of hilarious Internet snark.

Swap in Beltran for Francoeur, though, and the guy has a much better point.

And I don’t mean in terms of off-field stuff. We only think we know baseball players from what little they reveal of themselves to the press and the fans: We heard Terry Collins rave about Beltran’s leadership this year, we read about his charitable efforts and saw the professional way in which he handled every single one of the incessant questions about his future, but for all any of us know Beltran punts puppies on his home from the ballpark.

Let’s accept that we don’t really know Beltran as a person and just think about the ballplayer. Could you imagine what the world would be like if we could all do everything the way Beltran plays baseball? If we demonstrated that same elegance and efficiency in our morning commutes, our jobs, our yardwork? What if we could all stay so calm and so patient under pressure, and remain so humble upon success? What a place that would be!

Or would that entire world be mistaken for joyless?

Oh, whatever. I made it this far without mentioning the infernal haters, and it’s probably best to just leave them stewing in their pathetic corners, pissed about whatever it is they’ve chosen to be pissed about next. Let’s applaud Beltran now, not waste time defending him from those that will never understand. Know this: People who don’t appreciate Carlos Beltran by now don’t deserve to.

I’m going to rehash the point I made in regards to Jose Reyes earlier this summer. I apologize for repeating myself: What we’ve seen from Beltran is ours to keep forever, no matter what team he’s playing for tomorrow. Carlos Beltran playing baseball at the peak of his ability is a beautiful sight to behold, and we got to watch it hundreds of times.

The sad thing about baseball is that greatness is fleeting. The awesome thing about baseball – or one of the many, at least – is that more great players and great moments are always on the way. Who knows? Maybe Zack Wheeler is one of them.

So Beltran is off to San Francisco to put the Giants’ putrid offense on his shoulders, and we’ll watch him in the playoffs then hear unsubstantiated and likely fruitless rumors that the Mets are pursuing him in the offseason.

I’m not sure how to wrap this up. Last time through I had some dumb story about the old-man version of me, 30 years in the future, describing Beltran to some punk kid. But it sucked and now I’ve got a train to catch. So we move forward.

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