Some days, Adrian Beltre is acutely aware of how close he is to becoming the 31st member of one of baseball's most illustrious fraternities. He can see the titanic silhouette of that number, "3,000," on the horizon, growing larger and nearer as he inches closer. But other days, he doesn't
Some days, Adrian Beltre is acutely aware of how close he is to becoming the 31st member of one of baseball's most illustrious fraternities. He can see the titanic silhouette of that number, "3,000," on the horizon, growing larger and nearer as he inches closer. But other days, he doesn't know how many hits he needs, or otherwise doesn't care.
If anything, the veteran has said he wants to get it over with. That's just how he operates, and it's not a surprise to anybody who's been around him long enough. But the mystique of Beltre is that despite that, he embodies so many different personas to the scores of people that have played with or against him, and to the lucky few who have had the opportunity to manage him. To understand what Beltre means to those around him, you just have to know him.
• As Hall calls Pudge, Beltre continues march to 3,000
There's the ironman. Beltre has played through countless injuries in his 20-year career, his ability to ignore whatever is ailing his body in order to be on the field astounding his teammates. Hamstring problems, dislocated fingers, torn thumb ligaments; if you can name it, he's shrugged it off.
"To play through what he plays through and still be able to do ... sometimes I don't think he can hit unless he hurts," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "He's the only guy that I've seen will himself to play like he does."
And when he does suit up, few have instilled the sense of dread the way Beltre has for so long. Opponents know what to expect when he steps into the box -- besides the drop-to-a-knee swing that has served as a sort of calling card. A's manager Bob Melvin said "you're always kind of aware of when his spot is coming up, and you're hoping it's not an impactful situation."
When he reaches 3,000 hits, Beltre will become just the third member of the club to have primarily played third base.
• Watch Beltre make history
"He has defined really the quintessential third baseman, having every box checked with power, with defense, clutch hitting in the middle of a lineup," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's put himself in a small class of players that have ever played the position. I'm talking about a handful."
Pitching around Beltre is futile. Trying to goad him into swinging at a bad pitch -- well, it happens, but he usually has fun with it. That just makes it even more devastating when he does a shimmy in the batter's box to avoid a pitch or pokes fun at an umpire for making a call he disagreed with, only to get a back-breaking hit on the next pitch. And sometimes, all you can do is tip your cap.
"He plays the game right," said Indians manager Terry Francona, whom Beltre played for in Boston in 2010. "He has fun, very respectful. You never want those guys to beat you, but it's awfully hard not to be happy for their accomplishments."
Because while Beltre is about as good as a baseball player you can ask for at third base, he's also up there for one of the goofiest. But without that, he wouldn't be Beltre. His mannerisms are the stuff GIFs were made for, and touching his head might as well be up there with stealing signs in the unwritten rules of baseball. He's having fun, and after all, isn't baseball supposed to be fun?
• Beltre moves on-deck circle, gets ejected
"He brings so much joy," said Rangers shortstop, and fellow prankster, Elvis Andrus. "We want to grow and act like big men, and you stop doing the little things that make you love this game, and everything goes sideways. He always reminds you that if you're getting older or whatever, always enjoy it and always find a way to play every single day."
Beltre is beloved on the field by teammates, fans and opponents, but he serves another role in a place most people hardly, if ever, get to see: the clubhouse.
Beltre is the leader there. The Rangers fall in step behind him, and how he paves the way can dictate how the team goes. He could be the intimidating drill sergeant if he so desired; he's certainly earned that right. That's not Beltre, though.
"He's one of those guys that really teaches everybody, it doesn't matter if it's Elvis, who's been around for a long time with the team, or me or Drew [Robinson], who's been around the least amount," Rangers pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx said. "He holds everybody to the same standard and is just a really good team guy, team leader."
So, with all the fanfare and pomp that accompanies the march to 3,000 hits, what does Beltre think about his zeroing in on a milestone few get to sniff, let alone reach?
"My big concern, especially over the last week or so, is find a way for our team to be more consistent and find a way to win ballgames," Beltre said. "It's more important for us to find a way how to get better and put ourselves in better playoff position than what's going on with me personally."
Well, that's Beltre for you. But that's not a surprise, because you already know him.
Sam Butler is a reporter for MLB.com based in Texas.