KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It was just two weeks ago that former Royals slugger Carlos Beltran made his first trip back to Kansas City in nearly eight years.
But he’s back again, this time as a starter for the National League All-Star team.
“Being able to come back to Kansas City as an All-Star, it’s a great moment for me,” Beltran said Monday. “It’s been fun for me. My career began here when I was 20 years old. I really enjoyed my time here in Kansas City and I’m just glad to be back.”
Beltran, who hit 12 home runs and advanced to the second round of Monday night’s Home Run Derby, will bat fifth and play right field for the National League on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium – where he played parts of seven seasons with the Royals from 1998-2004.
And he returns looking just like the player who adorned himself to Kansas City fans for so many years, having an MVP-type season in his first year with the Cardinals. After signing a two-year, $26 million contract with St. Louis in the offseason, Beltran is hitting .296 and has 20 home runs at the break.
His 65 RBI lead the National League and his .594 slugging percentage is the best he’s had since 2006. Some thought the Cardinals overpaid. As it turns out, they may have gotten a bargain.
“I think every time you’re selected to be an All-Star, it means you’re having a good season and the fans are aware of what your doing so I’m really thankful for that,” Beltran said. “After going through the injuries and things the last couple of years and rehabbing and being able to play 145 games last year, that really gave me confidence to go into the offseason and train hard.
“I’m glad that right now I feel like I had a good first half and I’m looking forward to continuing to help our team. I’m looking forward to having a good second half.”
Many wondered whether or not the talented Beltran would ever return to an All-Star Game when he knee injuries limited him to just 81 games in 2009 and 64 games in 2010.
But he made the National League team as a reserve last year, hitting .300 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI in 142 games between the New York Mets and Giants. Making it to last year’s game was nice. Nearly matching last year’s statistics at the halfway point this season is downright impressive.
Asked if he ever doubted he could return to the dominant player he’s been this season, Beltran said, “Doubt is something you always have sometimes when you’re hurt, but I’m a very positive man and I know God has a purpose and a plan. Faith is something I’ve always had a lot of and that was something that kept me motivated and working hard.”
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 look back and I remember the times I was here when Johnny was in left field and Jermaine was in right field,” Beltran said. “One of those years we led the league in assists, but the problem here always was they couldn’t keep everyone together. I really enjoyed my time, I was able to be around so many good ballplayers and good friends and we still stay in contact.
“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.”
After six-plus seasons with the Royals to start his career, Beltran 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 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 to help fill some of the void left when Albert Pujols departed for the Anaheim Angels. And he’s certainly done that, ranking near the top of most offensive statistics in the National League in the first half.
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. And many of those came during his time in Kansas City.
“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.”