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Beltran takes great pride in charitable endeavors

CINCINNATI -- Carlos Beltran doesn't know how many hits he has this season or how many runs he has driven in.

The Cardinals outfielder estimates he has 20-something home runs in 2013 (actual total: 23), and he's not sure how many he's hit in his career (2,216). He's stolen a few bases over the years, he says modestly, and he's scored quite a few times.

Beltran has been a Glove Glove Award winner, a Silver Slugger Award winner and an All-Star, but he says he's not keeping score. It's not that statistics and awards do not matter to the Puerto Rican star, it's just that those types of accolades don't count the most to him.

Sitting in the visitors' dugout at Great American Ball Park with one recent afternoon, Beltran opened up and spoke of the figures closest to his heart.

It all starts with the Carlos Beltran Foundation.

"We started the Foundation eight years ago, and it has been involved in several projects," Beltran said. "First, we built an academy in Puerto Rico. I've always wanted to get involved in community projects in every city I've played in. In St. Louis this year, we awarded eight scholarships to Latino students so they could attend universities. I believe a lot in education, it's something very important to me. God has given me a lot of opportunities and blessings in playing this sport, so I've always wanted to give back and help whenever I can."

It seems some statistics really do matter to Beltran.

Beltran and his wife, Jessica, recently partnered with the Hispanic Arts Council of St. Louis to create the Carlos Beltran Scholarship Award, and they donated a total of $20,000 to eight lucky students. He knows how many kids participate in Beltran's Buddies, a program in which he hosted two dozen underprivileged youth at the stadium, and he knows exactly how many ballplayers were in the first graduating class from the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy earlier this year.

The baseball academy officially opened Aug. 24, 2011, but it had been Beltran's dream for years. He was not going to miss the graduation ceremony.

"I flew overnight, and arrived at Puerto Rico at 5 a.m. After that, the graduation started at 9 a.m. I was able to talk to the youngsters and congratulate them," he said. "I also had plenty of pictures taken with them. I was already on my way back to the States in the afternoon, landing in New York because we were starting a series against the Mets the next evening. It was a sacrifice, but it was worth it because you saw the happiness of the young kids and their parents. They were so happy their children were graduating. That made it all worthwhile."

Make no mistake, Beltran is not shy. He just doesn't brag. He likes to talk about anything involving family, baseball and Puerto Rico. Beltran beams every time his hero, Roberto Clemente, is mentioned, and he is proud to say that the Puerto Rican Hall of Famer, who died in an airplane crash delivering goods to earthquake-torn Nicaragua in 1972, still inspires him today.

Truth be told, Clemente still inspires hundreds of Major Leaguers.

Since 1972, Major League Baseball annually has presented the Roberto Clemente Award (originally known as The Commissioner's Award) to recognize the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. In 1973, following the tragic death of Clemente, the award was renamed.

Today, it's arguably the most prestigious award in baseball.

"I never had the chance to see [Clemente] play, but as a Puerto Rican, I was able to grow up listening to stories about him, and that's something you get to have instilled in your mind, soul and your character," Beltran said. "Clemente lives in our hearts every day. As a Puerto Rican baseball player, I'm very proud to pay tribute to his legacy and follow his footsteps."

Beltran might be too humble to boast about his personal accomplishments, but he's always willing to chat about community service and his beloved island of Puerto Rico.

In that way, he's just like his idol, Clemente.

"He dedicated his life in body, heart and soul to do things that were meaningful to children and people in need," Beltran said. "He believed in fighting against injustice in the Major Leagues, he spoke his mind whenever he found something unfair."

Beltran admits he still has plenty of work ahead of him. He helped organize Hispanic Heritage Day at Busch Stadium this summer. He also has a fashion show for charity and a toy drive for underprivileged children in the works. Beltran's baseball academy is thriving, but he wants to do more.

"God is blessing me with the opportunity to play baseball for so many years and make plenty of money with it, so it was something I wanted to do, not just so I could make a one-time donation, but I wanted the chance of making something that would be of permanent impact, year after year," Beltran said. "It's been a very beautiful project, thank God. We had our first graduating class last year, with 44 students. It's an opportunity to give these youngsters a place in which they can get an education so they can have better opportunities, not just in baseball but also in their future. All students had the opportunity to get scholarships, to come to study at different universities and junior colleges in the United States."

Beltran is smart enough to know baseball made him famous. He also knows his parents helped make him a man.

"My dad, Wilfredo, and my mom, Carmen, did an amazing job," he said. "Despite the struggles we faced as a family, thank God, we never stopped having food on our table. My mom worked a lot so my siblings and me could go forward in life. I'm so proud of the way we were raised."

And now, Beltran is sharing those lessons with the world.

"What I've always wanted is to help out," Beltran said. "Of course, I've always wanted to do my best on the field, but I've also cared to reach out, to get involved with the community and trying to make a difference."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Beltran