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YORK -- Surrounded by a crowd of more than 25 reporters in the visitors' dugout at Citi Field, Carlos Beltran admitted to missing New York after seven seasons with the Mets, but only sometimes.
"I'm just being honest," Beltran laughed.
The six-time All-Star returned to New York with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday for the first time since being dealt to San Francisco at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline unsure of what type of reception he would receive from Mets fans.
But after seven seasons with the Mets remembered more by injury troubles and a strikeout looking to end the 2006 National League Championship Series, Beltran is less interested in fans' reactions than in seeing old friends like former manager Terry Collins and Mets ace Johan Santana, who shut down Beltran across four at-bats while throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history on Friday.
"That's why they're fans; sometimes they get attached to a player and they just want to follow that player," Beltran said. "But you have to say this -- maybe there were fans that didn't treat me like I was expecting, but there were other fans that treated me with love. You have to remember those moments. You don't remember the negative, you remember the positive."
For Beltran, the positives were five All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves and a pair of Silver Slugger Awards while with the Mets.
He considers his healthy years in New York the best of his career, especially 2006.
That season ended with the Mets' last playoff appearance, which ended with Beltran at the plate and Adam Wainwright -- now his teammate and starter Friday -- on the mound. A year later, the Mets blew a seven-game lead in the NL East in the final month.
Beltran hit a combined 74 home runs between those two years, driving in 228 runs, scoring 220 runs, stealing 41 bases and hitting .275.
"When you don't win a championship, it doesn't matter," he said. "It could be a good year for you personally, but as a team, we failed."
He never played a complete season in New York after playing in 161 games in 2008, dealing with persistent knee trouble in 2009-10 until he was traded last season after playing 98 games.
Beltran is back to his old form in his first season in St. Louis, with 15 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .294 average entering the four-game series at Citi Field.
He credits that to Collins, who attended Beltran's charity dinner to support his baseball academy in Puerto Rico on Thursday along with Santana, Mets trainer Ray Ramirez and a handful of other coaches. After the way Collins managed Beltran's playing time in 2011, the outfielder felt healthy enough to have the same offseason routine he was accustomed to in his early years with the Mets.
"He was a guy who was supposed to hit 40 homers every year and be a perennial All-Star and not have a bad knee and be a guy that carries a ballclub," said Collins, who managed Beltran only last season. "When he was healthy, he did that."
Asked if he could have one do-over from his seven seasons in New York, Beltran said he wished he could be healthy.
Although Beltran still feels stiffness on certain days, his knees are strong enough now that he played in 49 of the Cardinals' first 51 games, and Friday he started in center field, where he last played on Sept. 28, 2010.
Beltran does not know how much time he has left, but he still believes he can help his team when he is healthy and will keep playing until that changes. When he is done, he would like to remain around baseball, helping during Spring Training, whether it is with the Mets or "wherever they need me."
"I felt personally that in the years that I was healthy, I had my best years in baseball with the Mets," Beltran said. "It's unfortunate that we had good teams and we just couldn't win. That part really made me sad, but at the same time, my experience was good. I experienced seven years here and I really enjoyed it, honestly."