The day he signed his contract with the Mets, Carlos Beltran impressed reporters with his knowledge of the center field history of New York.
Bernie Williams was a personal hero. But Beltran was familiar enough with the golden age of New York City baseball to speak of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider. And, of course, he knew about Joe DiMaggio.
"Center field is an important position everywhere," Beltran said. "But here, it is special. Great players have played in center field here."
In moments of candor and immodesty, Beltran says the thought of being included with Williams and the other center fielders who played before the Mets center fielder was born appeals to him.
"You always want to be the best or with the best," he said.
In less than half a season with the Mets, Beltran has begun to push his way into the center-field fraternity. When Major League Baseball made its second count of All-Star Game ballots cast, Beltran emerged as the leading vote-getter among all National League outfielders, with 672,050 votes.
Beltran, who missed eight games in the final days of May because of a slightly torn quadricep, nonetheless maintained the position he had attained in the first tally. He leads center fielder Jim Edmonds of the Cardinals and Phillies right fielder Bobby Abreu. Abreu, the National League Player of the Month for May, hadn't been among the top five outfielders in the first vote.
Another Met, Mike Piazza, maintained a hold on first place at his position. Piazza, an 11-time All-Star, had tallied 579,502 votes in the voting for the National League catcher.
Other Mets among the leaders were Doug Mientkiewicz (third among first basemen with 230,181 votes), David Wright and Kaz Matsui (each fifth among, respectively, third basemen and second basemen) and Cliff Floyd (eighth among outfielders with 274,495 votes).
Shortstop Jose Reyes, fourth in the first count, dropped from the top five, partially because of a strong second showing by Cesar Izturis of the Dodgers.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.