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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

It's Home Sweet Home for Beltran as a Met

June 25, 2006|Jon Heyman | Newsday

NEW YORK — Among Carlos Beltran's many pitfalls and problems during his trying first season in Queens -- the midair collision with Mike Cameron comes first to mind -- Beltran never felt at home. That's because he literally never found a home. Beltran moved around like he was filming a pilot for "The Fugitive."

At different times in his initial season here, Beltran resided in Long Island City, in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan and in Glen Cove. He stopped at three only because he ran out of time.

Beltran once agreed to buy a $3-million condo on tony Beekman Place, but he lost the pad after the agent leaked that he was buying the place to the papers and bigger bids started coming in. A lesson was learned.

Hey, that's life in the big city.

"I can't live there," Beltran said of Manhattan. "It's crazy every day."

Now Beltran is happily settled in Sands Point in a new home on a two-acre plot of land. He had the home built for him, his wife, Rebecca, and pet poodles, Zion and Toy, and, he hopes, a big family to come later. He loves every minute of it.

"When I wake up in the morning, I go outside," Beltran said. "I see trees. I see green."

You couldn't blame the Mets' owners if they were seeing red over all the green they were paying Beltran last season, when all the injuries and incidents limited Beltran to 16 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .266 batting average. His contract was mentioned constantly. That's a bad sign -- and some folks thought for sure that he was a bad sign too.

Today, no one mentions the $119-million contract. That's because in baseball's inflated dollars, he is worth every dime, nickel and penny the Mets are paying him, and then some.

"I feel comfortable," Beltran said.

That's fairly obvious. Assuming last year's luck doesn't return, Beltran may break Mike Piazza's single-season Mets record for slugging percentage of .614 and will surely obliterate every single-season mark for Mets centerfielders. The spot previously has been filled in Queens by players who were either a) fast, b) had some power, or c) had neither speed nor power.

The most RBIs a Mets centerfielder ever had was 79, and if you know Brian McRae and Lee Mazzilli jointly hold that record, you need to remove your nose from the Mets media guide. The highest slugging percentage by a Mets centerfielder was .479, recorded by Lance Johnson and Mike Cameron, and my guess is not even Mr. Met knew that.

Historically, center field isn't the black hole that third base has been for the Mets. But it's certainly no training ground for Hall of Famers, like they have in the Bronx. So it's especially gratifying that third base and centerfield have been the first-place Mets' hottest spots this year.

Beltran had 56 RBIs and a .613 slugging percentage heading into the weekend. His 19 homers are three more than he had all last year, when injuries, incidents and New York conspired to ruin Beltran's time.

"You have to adjust, there's no doubt about it," Beltran said.

Beltran was often showered with boos last year, and he heard them again on opening day. But now that he is showing why GM Omar Minaya made him the highest-paid centerfielder in history, at $17 million a year, Beltran is blending back into the background. In a way, that's a shame. But at the same time, he seems not to mind.

Beyond the contract and his place on People's best-looking list, Beltran has managed to remain as far from the limelight as possible for a ballplayer with a $119-million contract in New York. That's his way.

Several fans chanted "MVP" whenever David Wright came to bat during a game last week.

Not to take a thing away from Wright, who is terrific, but thus far, Beltran is having just as good a season, if not better.

Assuming he makes it back fairly soon, Albert Pujols will keep the favorite's tag in the National League MVP race favorite. But Beltran is smack in the middle of the conversation and should have as good a chance as anyone else, including Wright, Scott Rolen, Nomar Garciaparra, Ryan Howard and Alfonso Soriano. Beltran's .613 slugging percentage was third in the league, behind Pujols and Colorado's Matt Holliday.

The MVP award looks within his grasp.

"It's too early to talk about that," Beltran said.

That's just his way.

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