Beltre thriving in leadership role with Rangers
Intensity and playfulness key to veteran's clubhouse standing
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre was in great voice on Monday night, especially when one of his teammates took a strike at the plate early in the game."Swing the bat! This is not an eye test!" Beltre screamed from the bench. Beltre did just that himself. He led off the second with a single, and the Rangers scored five runs that inning. By the time the starters were done after five, the Rangers had a 12-0 lead on their way to a 12-2 victory over the Reds. "That's when they're at their best, when they're having fun and yelling at each other," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "That's the first time this spring they've shown that, having fun like that, and Beltre was the leader. He was right in the middle of it. He's always yelling at those guys, getting them going." Washington spoke while standing next to the Rangers' batting cage on Tuesday morning. Beltre was taking batting practice alongside Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Michael Young. They kept up a constant chatter while Triple-A manager Bobby Jones threw one pitch after another. Jones threw a low fastball and Beltre golfed at it with a nice easy swing. The ball soared high and deep over the left-field fence. "Geez, you nailed that one," Young said, and a big grin spread across Beltre's face. Washington watched and shook his head. "When we got Beltre last year, Michael said it best," Washington said. "He said, 'Beltre doesn't show up to the ballpark to do his job. He shows up to beat the opponent.'"
The Rangers got Beltre last year with a five-year, $80 million contract. They signed him to play third base and hit in the middle of the lineup, and he fulfilled both obligations. He took home both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.But he brought more than just baseball ability. He brought intensity, leadership and energy that fit right in with the rest of the team, another natural clubhouse voice for the American League champions. "A beast. ... He is a beast," Andrus said. "A great leader. ... A lot of fun to be around," Kinsler said. "Just the way he is. ... He likes to play around and mess around, just like the rest of us. But he knows when the right time is to strap it on and play hard every day." Strength coach Jose Vazquez called Beltre one of the most "intense" players he's ever worked with in a weight room. When the Rangers went to Las Vegas for two games earlier in the spring, Washington did not impose any curfews or restrictions on his young players. "I just told Beltre to take care of it," Washington said. "And they showed up every day ready to play. Las Vegas should be fun, but those guys played baseball there." Beltre made sure of it. "He doesn't miss anything," outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "If somebody's late with a swing or early with a swing, he's screaming at you from the bench. He does his little dance at the plate, or when he's going up to hit. When he's at the plate, he's the one who yells at the first-base umpire to check his swing. Or he'll yell "Outside!" on every pitch, no matter where it's at. "He's entertaining, to say the least, besides having the best hands at third base I've ever seen." And a bald head that teammates love to rub because they know it irritates him. But it doesn't lessen their respect for their 32-year-old All-Star third baseman. It may be symbolic about the leadership on the Rangers that Beltre and Young pair off to play catch every day when players warm up for the morning workout. "I can't say enough great things about Adrian," Young said. "He's a great teammate and a great guy. He's a guy that everybody respects. He keeps the game fun. He's an intense guy, but makes it fun. He enjoys the game but is extremely competitive and wants to win. That's the common thread in this clubhouse. That's the way this team is wired." That's why nobody thinks twice when Hamilton is looking at the bulletin board and Beltre jumps him from behind, playfully pummeling him in the back. Or when Derek Holland is in deep conversation with a television buddy and Beltre casually walks by with bat in hand, slamming it hard on the table and making the young left-hander jump in his chair. "It's so easy on this team to be yourself and help others," Beltre said. "There are not a lot of guys who get out of line. It makes it easy. I like to have fun. It helps me relax and enjoy the game. When I enjoy the game, I perform better. It's tough to have fun when you're losing. The good thing is this team wins a lot. It's easier that way." The Rangers won 96 games last year. They also won two playoff series before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Beltre took it especially hard. The Rangers were twice one strike away from winning Game 6 before losing in 11 innings, and Beltre was still fuming after a 6-2 loss in Game 7. Standing in the Rangers' deathly somber clubhouse, Beltre said, "We all know we lost the Series yesterday. We shouldn't have let it slip away. ... We were one strike away, but it didn't happen. It would be easier if you lose four games in a row than having the thought that you were one strike away. It's not easy. That game will be hard to forget." It is now five months later... "I'm over it," Beltre said. "I'm looking forward. There is nothing we can do about it. We're looking forward to accomplishing what we didn't accomplish last year." So on a bright Tuesday morning in the desert, Beltre was smiling and having fun again. The Rangers had blasted the Reds the night before, the team is less than a week away from leaving Arizona, and the regular season is coming quickly. Last season's debacle is fading and... Yorvit Torrealba was wild with his throw. Standing next to Beltre during the warmups, Torrealba fired one way over Mike Napoli's head and almost nailed a photographer taking pictures of the Rangers playing catch. "Pay attention!" Beltre screamed at the unsuspecting target. When Beltre talks, screams or does anything else, his teammates usually are paying close attention.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.