KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Nearly eight years to the day since he was traded out of town, outfielder Carlos Beltran returned to Kauffman Stadium for the first time Friday.
And while the stadium hardly looks the same and nearly nobody except a few stadium security guards look familiar to him, the memories of his first six-plus years in the big leagues remain strong.
“I only have good memories of this place,” Beltran said. “My career began here and I’m just happy to be back, even though it’s only for three days.
“I’m not going to cry, but I’m happy. I’m just excited to be back and looking forward to going to and playing a game. Six and a half years is a lot of time with one team and I went through a lot of good times in this city.”
Beltran wasted little time producing in his old stomping grounds Friday, lining a two-run double off the wall in the first inning and another two-run double into the gap in right center in the second inning.
Serving as the designated hitter, he finished 2-for-5 with four RBI and two runs scored in the Cardinals 11-4 win over the Royals.
Beltran broke into the big leagues with Kansas City for a handful of games in 1998 at just 21 years old. A year later, he won the 1999 American League Rookie of the Year Award by hitting .293 with 22 home runs, 108 RBI and 112 runs in 156 games.
He hit .287 with 123 home runs, 899 hits, 516 RBI and 546 runs scored during his six-plus years in Kansas City, playing with the likes of Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Raul Ibanez and Mike Sweeney.
“I got the opportunity to play with so many great ballplayers,” Beltran said. “Unfortunately they couldn’t keep us together but it was fun for me. I was drafted by this organization. I got the opportunity to be around good people for the whole process. It was great.
“When I first came up as a Royal, I felt like I wanted to end my career as a Royal but this game has changed so much and right now it’s a big business and I knew if we didn’t get something done I was going to be traded and it didn’t happen.”
The switch-hitter referenced his rookie season when asked Friday afternoon for his favorite memory in Kansas City, saying, “I came up that year hoping to do good and it turned out to be a good season for me. I was able to drive in 100 runs and score 100 that year so it was a great moment in my life.”
Beltran played parts of seven seasons with the Royals before he was traded to the Houston Astros on June 24, 2004. He led the Astros to the National League Championship Series, where they lost a thrilling seven game series to the Cardinals.
He signed a seven-year, $119 million contract with the New York Mets that offseason, finishing the last two months of the deal in San Francisco last year after being traded again at the deadline.
Beltran joined the Cardinals in late December on a 2-year, $26-million deal to help fill some of the void left when Albert Pujols departed for the Anaheim Angels.
And the 35-year-old has done just that, hitting .309 with 19 home runs and 52 RBI in 68 games with St. Louis.
He’s a career .284 hitter in 15 Major League seasons and has 321 home runs, 399 doubles, 1,198 RBI and 1,227 runs scored. He recently became just the eighth player in Major League history and the first switch-hitter to record 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases.
“I have gone through a lot but at the same time, what can I say? My first steps as a ballplayer, you never will forget, and I’ll always be a Royal,” Beltran said. “I had a great, great time here. Great people around me, great coaches and I was drafted by this organization so no matter where I go or where I end up, this place is going to be in my heart.
“Kansas City is always going to be in my heart. It’s a great place. I’m very fortunate to start my career here and I really enjoyed my time.”
And this may not be Beltran’s only trip to Kansas City this summer. He’s currently second among N.L. outfielders in fan voting for the All-Star Game and would start the game should the voting end today.