Quirky Beltre having another solid season in Texas
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)
Adrian Beltre certainly has his quirks.
Beltre appeals his own checked swings. He has a strange dance of short shuffle steps in the batter's box when a pitch is inside or at his feet. And the Gold Glove third baseman really hates being touched on the head - a fact that gets mercilessly exploited by his Texas Rangers teammates.
''It's just part of who I am,'' Beltre said. ''The thing is, they do it when I do something good. ... That moment, I'm expecting that. I'm kind of happy because I've done something good for the team. But I still don't like it.''
Though Beltre was left off the American League All-Star team for the first time in four seasons, he is hitting .316 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs. He has seven homers in 13 games this month, each time scrunching his shoulders going into the dugout ready for the playful taps coming his way.
''We're a fun-loving team, and that's just one of those enjoyable moments that we have every single time that he hits a home run,'' David Murphy said. ''As much as he hates it, he seems to enjoy it at the same time.''
The 34-year-old Beltre is already in his 16th major league season - he was only 15 in the Dominican Republic when signed by the Dodgers in 1994, four years before his debut for Los Angeles.
''He's still the same kind of kid, plays the same way,'' said Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura, Beltre's teammate with the Dodgers in 2003-04. ''He was mature even as a kid. He was a great teammate. He had the respect of the clubhouse, that's for sure.''
Beltre is now nearly halfway into his $96 million, six-year deal with the Rangers.
''He's a big-time leader,'' general manager Jon Daniels said. ''He's intense, but he's always been playful. The guy has fun playing the game.''
The Rangers were coming off their first World Series when Beltre signed in 2011, and he got to his first that season when they won another AL pennant. He was third in the AL MVP voting last season, and the Rangers begin the post All-Star break Friday against Baltimore in playoff contention again.
''I don't think I could have made a better decision than what I did,'' Beltre said of signing with Texas after being a first-time All-Star his only season in Boston. ''Since the first week I got here, it's been a blast. ... The guys have fun, they play hard, we're winning. All of the above makes it easier for you to be comfortable and want to stay here.''
Beltre has had a big part in the Rangers' success - they are an incredible 74-10 when he hits a home run, a few of them coming even when dropping to his right knee while swinging. There have also been plenty of spectacular defensive plays that he makes look routine.
''He makes the hot corner look cold,'' Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said, who was managing San Francisco and in the NL West with the Dodgers during Beltre's first five major league seasons.
''He can throw from different angles and different ways, and he doesn't miss anything,'' Baker said. ''He was always good. It was just a matter of how good.''
Ventura, a former third baseman, considers Beltre the best defensive player in the league at any position.
''He has range, he has great hands,'' Ventura said. ''When you start talking about defense, people bring up his name quite often just because he sticks out that much for people that play the game.''
After Beltre hit .334 with a league-leading 48 homers and 121 RBIs for the Dodgers in 2004, he was just 25 when he signed a five-year deal with Seattle. Then in his only season with the Red Sox, he hit .321 with 49 doubles, 28 homers and 102 RBIs.
''You see how guys sort of flock to him, that's the sign of a good teammate,'' said Cleveland manager Terry Francona, who was then in Boston.
''He plays the game the right way. He shows up every day and plays hard,'' said Dustin Pedroia, Boston's All-Star second baseman. ''Adrian Beltre's a force. ... When you play with him, just seeing it every day, it's pretty darn impressive what he does.''
Francona said about the only way to really aggravate Beltre, other than touching his head, is to tell him he's not playing.
''When I don't put him in the lineup, I've got to hide under my desk,'' Rangers manager Ron Washington said. ''You think I'm going to mess with Beltre? No way.''
Beltre played 156 games last season, and hit .321 with 36 homers, even while dealing with left leg inflammation, a sore left hamstring and a strained left shoulder. He has played in 93 of the Rangers' 95 games this year.
With that, it's a good bet that the Rangers won't have to even consider voiding the sixth year of Beltre's deal - which can only happen if he fails to have 600 plate appearances in 2015 or 1,200 combined in 2014 and 2015.
Just don't expect him to be wearing a cup.
''I know his hands are good ... but I barely can watch a game on TV without wearing a cup,'' Francona said. ''I don't know if I understand that one.''
Beltre wore one late in the 2009 season, only after returning from the disabled list because he took a wicked one-hopper into the groin. That was only temporary.
''I just never felt comfortable,'' Beltre said. ''I didn't use it when I was young and in my prime. I say why now. I already have three kids, so I'm good in that department.''