Beltran returns to Houston in very different role

February 19, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) The last time Carlos Beltran shared a team with Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch they were playing together with the Royals in 2002.

And when the 39-year-old Beltran arrived at spring training and ran into Adam Everett, his teammate from his brief stint with Houston in 2004, he learned Everett was now a coach in the team's minor league system.

Back with the Astros, Beltran is in a very different place than he was in his first stint in Houston, but is excited to join a team he believes has a good chance of finally getting him that elusive World Series ring.

''We feel like we have a good chance in our division and that's what it's all about,'' Beltran said.

When asked how things have changed in the decade-plus since he last donned an Astros uniform, Beltran peeled off his cap to display his bald head and said: ''I had hair back then,'' before getting serious.

''I have a lot of good memories, playing in 2004 here coming from Kansas City and not being able to compete over there,'' he said. ''And all of the sudden I got traded to a team where all these superstars are in the clubhouse and it was overwhelming.''

Beltran was traded to the Astros in June 2004 and his work that postseason remains one of the best playoff performances in history. He hit .455 with four homers and nine RBIs in an NLDS win over Atlanta before batting .417 with four more homers and five RBIs before Houston was eliminated by the Cardinals in the NLCS.

He signed with the New York Mets after that season, but he still relishes his playoff debut on that Houston team, which included the ''Killer B's'' of Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman, and pitching greats Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

''The fact that I played with all of those guys it was a learning experience in my career and I was able to watch and ask questions,'' Beltran said. ''And now it's my time as a veteran guy to compete and go out there and hopefully be an example to other guys.''

Beltran's veteran leadership is certainly important for a team with a core made up of talented, but very young players. But the Astros aren't paying him $16 million this season simply to be a coach on the field.

''I think a lot's going to be said about the impact that he has behind the scenes, and I don't want to shorten the impact that we need him to have on the field,'' manager A.J. Hinch said. ''He's still putting up really good numbers. Father time is not affecting him like it does most of us. Having him on our team ... to hit somewhere near the middle of the order, a stable presence, a good mind, a great human, all the things that come when you mention his name is very special.''

Beltran played for the Yankees and Rangers last year, batting .295 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs.

In what will be his 20th major league season, Beltran likely will spend much of his time at designated hitter, but he's also eager to play in the field as well. However, the Astros have George Springer and Josh Reddick playing center and right field. So they're moving Beltran to left, a position he has played just twice, with both games coming in 2000 with the Royals.

''It's as simple as just putting him out there,'' Hinch said. ''He's been around and I don't think it's going to shock him.''

Beltran doesn't think the move will be a big deal after playing 2,196 career games in the outfield.

''I'm good about it,'' he said. ''I think if you play in the outfield you can play anywhere. I played center field all my career and I decided to move to right to basically play this game for a long period of time and I did that adjustment and that went well.''

Beltran feels a little strange that his former teammate is now his boss, but certainly respects the position the 42-year-old Hinch is in as manager.

''Playing for A.J. is funny, I feel funny,'' Beltran said. ''But at the end of the day, he's the manager and I have to understand that he's going to make decisions here and just because we're almost the same age (doesn't) mean I'm here to do things on my own.''

After having such a young team for his first two seasons in Houston, it's also a bit odd for Hinch to be managing a player almost his age, and he expressed a half-serious concern about the situation.

''He might have a few too many stories about me from my playing days,'' he said. ''I'm going to have to have a talk with him.''

Turns out that Hinch has no reason for concern even though he and Beltran haven't been teammates for 15 years.

Beltran laughed and waved off the question immediately when asked to share embarrassing tales of Hinch from his playing days.

''No, no, no,'' he said. ''A.J. was a hard worker all of his career.''