Beltran ready to prove what he can do

'Relaxed' Beltran feeling at home with Mets

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It might have taken a year, but Carlos Beltran finally feels at home.

The center fielder arrived and suited up for his second Spring Training with the Mets on Tuesday, having accepted and moved on from a debut season in New York marked by injury and frustration.

"It was a very difficult year," Beltran said. "Last year is in the past. This year, I'm looking forward to a new season and showing the fans and everyone what I'm capable of doing."

Beltran said he felt things seemed much different as soon as he reported to Port St. Lucie this week, cruising the Treasure Coast city's avenues of three-lane traffic and eyeing familiar locales.

No longer a newcomer, Beltran knows where he is going and can feel settled, just as he will on Long Island in several weeks -- his new choice of residence, following a summer in which Beltran said he and his wife, Jessica, were bounced between four different addresses.

"When you come to a new place like I did last year for the first time, you're wondering how it's going to be," Beltran said. "This year, I feel relaxed and feel great."

Flash back one year, and Beltran was the toast of camp, the big story, having signed the largest contract in club history and coming off one of the most incredible postseasons with the Astros.

Things are noticeably different this spring, as Beltran's arrival prompted a much smaller stir. As Beltran's bags met carpet, Victor Diaz hugged his outfield mate, while Tom Glavine ambled over to slap Beltran on the back.

Beltran, normally a reserved, low-key person, has no problem ceding the spotlight to some of the Mets' more vibrant personalities. It's actually the way he'd prefer it.

"All the hype is over," Cliff Floyd said. "He just wants to have fun and enjoy himself. He doesn't want to talk about money and how much he's making or the newest cars. He ain't about that stuff. He's not flashy at all.

"He wants to play. Everything else will take care of itself."

It wasn't that Beltran's first season in a Mets uniform was pedestrian -- far from it. But incredibly high expectations and, more importantly, health issues put a damper on a debut that saw the 28-year-old bat .266 with 16 home runs, 78 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 151 games.

One may wonder what Beltran could have done last season had he not injured his right quadriceps on a rainy field in Washington, D.C., on April 30, or what the Mets could have achieved had Beltran and Mike Cameron not collided head-first in San Diego on Aug. 11.

Fans will never have those answers, but the Mets expect to learn shortly what a healthy Beltran can produce -- both offensively and defensively -- over a full campaign in New York.

"Those balls he was missing last year, 100 percent goes to him not being able to do it physically," Floyd said. "He was out there busting himself for us, and I think that's why as a teammate, you give him a lot of credit."

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Agreeing that he has something to prove, Beltran opined one mistake he made last season was insisting upon playing hurt, particularly the two-month span in May and June when he gritted out the painful quadriceps injury.

Beltran hit just .198 in June and, though he regained speed and power after having fluid drained by doctors late in the month, it wasn't until Beltran grittily returned from his frightening collision with Cameron that the Shea Stadium boo-birds were completely silenced.

"That was something that I probably did wrong last year," Beltran said. "I should have let the injury heal completely 100 percent. I just wanted to be there, and instead of helping the team, I was hurting the team. You learn from that."

Mets manager Willie Randolph didn't appear to share the same sentiment. Even at reduced ability, Randolph said, Beltran may have been the best weapon to help the team at the time.

"You bring so much more to the table with all those tools," Randolph said. "Unless he's really setting himself back, that's part of being a professional athlete. We didn't want him to run through a wall or anything like that, but ... he might hit a three-run homer to win a ballgame."

Though he still has yet to take an official physical examination, Beltran reported his quadriceps is fine, as is his eyesight, with no ill effects of the facial fracture suffered in that August collision.

Floyd, who fought off persistent injury problems to put up a banner season in 2005, identifies with Beltran's struggles. He said the mental drain of not being at full strength can often be more damaging than the physical pains.

"It affects everything," Floyd said. "Your performance is off. You know you can do this, but you can't go all out, because you'll risk another month or two. He just could not do what he needed to do."

Perhaps that's why Beltran -- no stranger to a solid work ethic -- had a private batting cage built in his Puerto Rico home, working out seven days a week during the offseason -- even Christmas Day, he said.

Acknowledging that there were times that he wondered, "Why is this happening to me?", Beltran said his religious faith brought him to see the positives in the season. Opting to focus on only things he could control, Beltran kept up the same afternoon workout routine he used to prepare for games at Shea Stadium.

The whole experience, Beltran said, ultimately taught him one thing.

"I am strong," Beltran said. "Last year was a very difficult year. When you don't do well and go through many injuries like I did last year, mentally, you've got to be strong. I feel like I had that."

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.