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Heel to hero: Beltran comes full circle in Houston

MLB.com @alysonfooter

HOUSTON -- In the 13 years between Carlos Beltran's stints with the Astros, he had dozens of at-bats at Minute Maid Park as a visitor, having played for the Mets, Giants, Cardinals, Yankees and Rangers.

Every time he stepped to the plate, Beltran elicited the same reaction from fans, and it wasn't exactly welcoming. Though the decibel level of the boos from the stands did soften over time, inevitably, regardless of how much time had passed since he jumped to the Mets as a free agent in 2005, there were at least a handful of fans who would make sure Beltran heard it when he stepped to the plate -- every single time.

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HOUSTON -- In the 13 years between Carlos Beltran's stints with the Astros, he had dozens of at-bats at Minute Maid Park as a visitor, having played for the Mets, Giants, Cardinals, Yankees and Rangers.

Every time he stepped to the plate, Beltran elicited the same reaction from fans, and it wasn't exactly welcoming. Though the decibel level of the boos from the stands did soften over time, inevitably, regardless of how much time had passed since he jumped to the Mets as a free agent in 2005, there were at least a handful of fans who would make sure Beltran heard it when he stepped to the plate -- every single time.

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Circumstances have changed, obviously. It's unlikely the 27-year-old Beltran from 2004 could have imagined that he'd be returning to the field 14 years later to a hero's welcome, as a World Series winner, and throwing out the first pitch the day the Astros received their championship rings on Tuesday.

Video: BAL@HOU: Astros receive their 2017 World Series rings

"It's crazy," Beltran said, smiling. "It's crazy how things work."

How he was perceived by unsettled Astros fans through the years did not reflect in any way who Beltran actually is. In reality, he's a humanitarian and an educator, and revered by nearly every teammate who crossed his path through his 20-year career.

Beltran is the founder of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy and Foundation, which aims to educate young men and prepare them for a life that includes more than just baseball. He's also raising funds to continue to help to restore parts of Puerto Rico that were demolished by Hurricane Maria. Beltran's foundation is aiming to rebuild as many as 200 homes lost in the storm.

When the Astros sought a productive hitter who could be a positive influence in a clubhouse that lacked leadership following the 2016 season, they zeroed in on Beltran. It was a perfect match for a supremely talented young team.

Beltran hadn't decided on a retirement date when he signed with Houston, months before his 40th birthday. But he knew the end was nearing, and he saw a chance to play on a competitive club that might just help him nab that elusive World Series ring.

In the end, everyone got what they wanted.

Video: Carlos Beltran on retiring after winning title

"Coming back, playing with this group of guys, they're young, and I was the veteran guy," Beltran said. "I wanted to show these guys that we have to fight, we have to grind, some part of your body is going to hurt, but you have to go out there and play the game and do the best you can. This is a good group of guys, a young group that are going to be good players for a long time."

For a guy who was somewhat reviled in Houston for a spell, Beltran has a decent list of Astros-related triumphs to store in his memory bank. He had a blistering postseason in 2004, launching eight homers over 12 games. He won a World Series with the Astros in '17, and he was given one of the loudest ovations on a night during which every player was lauded during the Astros' highly anticipated ring ceremony.

As for all of that booing from the past, Beltran never took it personally.

"I don't think they boo players that they don't feel that they want to have," Beltran said. "So, in my heart, I know that as fans, they just wanted to show their feelings.

"I never said anything about the fans of the Houston Astros. The three months that I spent here when I was traded from the Royals to the Astros were the most amazing three months in baseball, being able to experience the playoffs for the first time. It was an amazing thing."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Houston Astros