2005-01-14 / Sports

Now Headlining at Shea Stadium: Carlos Beltran

By Joe McDonald

Welcome to New York City Carlos Beltran. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)Welcome to New York City Carlos Beltran. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Willie Mays once said Shea Stadium’s centerfield was the toughest to play in baseball.

That’s an interesting distinction considering that the Hall of Famer patrolled the great plains of centerfield at the Polo Grounds and the battled the gale force winds at Candlestick Park for most of his illustrious career.

“In New York, historically the National League franchise has had to have some great centerfielders,” Mets GM Omar Minaya said.

Whenever the Mets were competitive, they had someone who could pick in center. In 1969, Tommy Agee was performing miracle catches and in 1986, Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson were getting dirty tracking down balls. Even Jay Payton roamed center with authority in 2000.

That’s why the signing of Carlos Beltran is so important to this club.

Mike Cameron played a good centerfield for the Mets last season, but Beltran may play it great. The former Astro played the outfield masterfully in tricky Minute Maid Park, so he should be able to bring panache back to defensive position 8 next season at Shea. Gone are the days of failed experiments (Keith Miller and Howard Johnson) and defensive disappointments (Darryl Hamilton and Brian McRae).

The 27 year-old doesn’t only give the Mets a centerfielder; he gives them a star. Beltran will be able to patrol his position with flair and excitement while becoming the cornerstone of the offense.

“I really believe this is great,” Beltran said at his press conference. “I really believe this is the new Mets. We’re going to go out and we’re going to try and get things done.”

It sounds like he is ready to lead the way.

Beltran should be able to jumpstart the middle of an aging line up that has had problems driving in key runs in the past few years. Yes he hit only .267 last season, but he had a career high in homers (38) and drove in 104 RBI. Remember that he changed leagues in the middle of last year and had to adjust to playing in the National League. Beltran’s playoff numbers (.435, 8 HR, 14 RBI) make up for any deficiencies that the centerfielder had in adjusting.

Even though he played in Houston for half a season, Beltran spent most of his career playing in Kansas City. Since Kauffman Stadium is a larger stadium, you can expect the outfielder to have an easier time adjusting to the pitchers haven in Flushing.

The Mets also have a new face for the organization. With this expected to be Mike Piazza’s last year, Beltran can come in and seamlessly take the mantle of team star from the future Hall of Famer.

Before this signing, the Mets were hard pressed to pin point which player they would be marketing as the team’s front man. David Wright would be a nice choice, but it’s hard to toss a 22 year-old into that position, the same with Jose Reyes. The rest of the lineup fills out a supporting cast and could not headline. Since the starting pitchers take the mound every five days, it is impossible to hand it to them as well. Beltran gives the Mets a new leading man.

New York has its future. The outfielder will get better as a player as he reaches his prime over the next few seasons. If the Mets prize plays like he is expected, centerfield will be well manned early into the next decade when the Olympics come to New York.

Heck if he leads his team to a World Championship, Beltran could carry the torch. But that’s in the future and New Yorkers only care about this year.

“I don’t know if we’re going to make the playoffs this year,” Beltran said. “I’m just saying, the last three years, this organization had lost over 90 games. I really believe we can do a lot better than that.”

The Mets already have.

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