One-of-a-kind Beltre's talents matched by heart

July 30th, 2017

Teammates love him. Managers admire him. As for the rest of us, we're the lucky ones who've had the honor of watching play baseball these last 20 seasons.

His 3,000th hit is an opportunity to celebrate his career and to try to understand why so many people have such a special place in their hearts for him.

First, some context.

:: Beltre joins 3,000-hit club ::

Adrian Beltre is going to the Hall of Fame. Let's not bury the headline. Only 16 third basemen have had that honor, with Chipper Jones expected to become the 17th in the Class of 2018.

Beltre firmed up his resume a bit more on Sunday when he became the 31st member of the 3,000-hit club on Sunday afternoon with a fourth-inning double off Orioles left-hander .

He's the fourth third baseman to get 3,000 hits, joining three other Hall of Famers -- Paul Molitor, George Brett and Wade Boggs. His 92.4 WAR is 42nd on the all-time list (per Baseball-Reference), between Hall of Famers Al Kaline (92.5) and Boggs (91.1). Only Mike Schmidt (106.5) and Eddie Matthews (96.4) have a higher WAR than Beltre among third basemen.

Yep, that's the company he's keeping. But numbers are numbers. To the people who've known him best, his career can't be defined strictly by them. Nor by five Gold Glove Awards, four Silver Slugger Awards, four All-Star appearances or six top-10 finishes in MVP voting spread over 13 seasons.

"He's everything you would imagine a leader to be," said , one of Beltre's former teammates with the Rangers.

Murphy can run down a checklist: How Beltre would make new players feel welcome, how he was generous of his time with young players.

How he has played games in so much pain that he had trouble getting up and down dugout steps. Once when he was playing for the Mariners, a trainer told the manager that Beltre could not play that day.

"Don't ever do that," Beltre said. "I know whether I can play or not."

That story gets to the core of a player who, in the end, demanded that everything be, first, about winning games and representing the franchise in a certain way.

And then there are the managers. They hold Beltre in something approaching awe.

"He keeps the clubhouse together and makes sure the culture is what you want," Rangers skipper Jeff Banister said. "He's the main ingredient in that. He's also an incredible human being and still one of the best players in baseball. There's such humility and grace with this man."

Former Rangers manager Ron Washington, now a coach with the Braves, said: "Everything he does is about preparing himself to win. Everything he does is making sure everyone else is prepared, too. All he cares about is winning."

Beltre shrugs when asks about this kind of thing. He did not set out to be a leader. He set out to play a certain way. That he does.

At third base, he makes the extraordinary plays seem routine and the routine seem mundane.

"He's the best I've ever seen," Washington said. "He does everything with his hands. Those are things you don't want to teach people. But he's accurate and knows what he's doing. He's an unorthodox guy with great hands. And I mean great hands."

Leadership? Washington remembered once when a certain player made a lackadaisical play.

"I started to go talk to him," Washington said, "and Beltre was already there. That's who he is. I've never seen a guy more committed to his team and his teammates."

Washington played with only one comparable player in terms of leadership: Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.

Beltre said it was not something he set out to be.

"It's not a conscious effort," Beltre said. "We play for a while, and you want to be sure that your team is doing the right thing. You want your teammates following what needs to be done to be prepared for the game.

"On this team, we have good relationships with each other and make sure that everybody follows rules and is ready to play every day. We make sure that everybody understands that the main goal here is to win the World Series and not just to show up and play a game.

"I have accomplished a couple things. I have made good money. I enjoy this game. But I want to be a champion. That's what drives me every day, because I want to win the World Series."

Beltre signed with the Rangers for the 2011 season after veteran scout Don Welke, now with the Padres, convinced Rangers president Nolan Ryan, general manager Jon Daniels and Washington to fly to Las Vegas and meet with Beltre.

"I knew they would love him," Welke said. "This is one of those special people, and when you spend a little time with him, you understand."

Beltre helped transform the Rangers. They've been to the playoffs four times in his first six seasons.

Beltre grew up in the baseball-rich culture of the Dominican Republic. Only two Dominicans -- Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez -- are in the Hall of Fame.

Beltre said that would make the Hall of Fame an even more special honor, but he's a long way from that moment.

"Vladimir Guerrero is probably going to get in next year," Beltre said. "[David Ortiz is] going to be in soon. We have a lot of players who are beloved in our country.

"I think that for me to be one of those guys, who hopefully they can look up and be proud of what I've done in my career, would be special. It's nice to know that people are looking up to me and respect me for all I have done in this sport."